The United States will test a hypersonic drone next summer

Next summer, the United States plans to conduct a test flight of the Dart AE aircraft. It will be a small hypersonic drone that will accelerate to a speed seven times faster than sound. Its purpose is to demonstrate the capabilities of new technologies.

An artistic representation of a hypersonic drone. Source: U.S. Air Force

Experimental hypersonic drone

The U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has announced that the Dart AE hypersonic drone will be ready for testing next summer. By order and with the support of this organization, it is being developed by the Australian company Hypersonix Launch Systems.

Dart AE will be a very small vehicle. Its length will reach only 9 m, and its weight will be 300 kg. At the same time, its jet engine will be able to accelerate this drone to a speed of Mach 7, that is, seven times faster than sound. In real numbers, it will be more than 8,600 km/h. 

The Main Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defense describes itself as an organization focused on accelerating the introduction of commercial and dual-use technologies to solve operational tasks at high speed and on a large scale. Accordingly, the Dart AE is positioned as a purely test aircraft, which should show the fundamental capabilities of new technologies.

Military and civilian purpose

However, this is not the only project overseen by the Main Directorate of American Intelligence. It has rolled out the high-cadence testing capabilities (HyCAT) project, which gives commercial companies the opportunity to develop reusable and inexpensive hypersonic vehicles. 

With regard to a hypersonic drone, it is never possible to be sure about its purpose. After all, it flies not only fast, but also high, where the atmospheric drag becomes less. That is, in fact, it is a modification of a suborbital spacecraft.

However, the military has its own view on its use. For example, if such a device carries an explosive charge of several tens or even hundreds of kilograms, it turns into a hypersonic missile, against which modern air defense systems are almost powerless. The United States is very concerned that the primacy in the development of such weapons may not go to them.

Fenix Space, Inc., located in San Bernardino, California, and Rocket Lab, located in Long Beach, California, have already received contracts from DIU for a reusable tow-launch platform and a HASTE (Hypersonic Accelerator Suborbital Test Electron) rocket, respectively. 

But even if you simply place photo and video equipment or SAR radars on the aircraft, this can also significantly affect the course of hostilities. A hypersonic drone flying at high altitude is very hard to shoot down with anti-aircraft missiles. And it sees all the equipment on the surface almost as well as the satellite in orbit.

According to

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