Here’s the latest under development:
Northrop Grumman Corp.’s NOC, +2.11% B-21 Raider, shown above, is the B-2’s younger and more advanced brother. This bad boy, already nicknamed the “21st century’s first bomber,” is expected to enter service by 2025 and replace the B-2, as well as the B-1 and B-52. Its job will be to deliver conventional long-range and thermonuclear weapons, gather intelligence and intercept enemy airplanes. Officials are tight-lipped about features. There are rumors that it could operate with or without a pilot, and once launched from the U.S., the aircraft will be capable of striking any target around the world without refueling. The estimated cost of the project hasn’t been released, and the head of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command envisions up to 200 bombers in service.
The DARPA Experimental Spaceplane program (formerly known as XS-1) is an experimental hypersonic (faster-than-sound) spacecraft that could be launched as many as 10 days straight, as it would require less servicing than current models. Boeing Co. BA, +2.97% is currently designing the vehicle and working closely with DARPA. The spaceplane, also known as the Phantom Express, will be powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine using liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants. Once it reaches orbit, the aircraft will be able to deploy 3,000 pounds of payload — most likely a smaller satellite. Once its mission is complete, the Phantom Express will land on a runway, horizontally, just like an airplane. Unlike a conventional model, though, the new carrier would be ready to take off again within hours. This would enable it to disrupt the current satellite launch procedure, which in the end is its main purpose. The first tests are scheduled for 2020.
Behind the moniker SR-72 hides Lockheed Martin Corp.’s LMT, +2.73% hypersonic unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), intended to provide timely, accurate and relevant intelligence during military operations. To prevent enemies from detecting or intercepting it, the SR-72 will rely on extremely high velocity (4,000 mph, also known as mach 6, or six times faster than the speed of sound). To reach those speeds, the UAV will employ a special dual-mode engine that combines turbine and ramjet technologies. This drone could enter service by 2030.
Have you heard of the U.S. Navy’s railgun? Railguns use electromagnetic fields and powerful magnets to launch projectiles at hypersonic speeds (4,800 mph, 100-mile range). Fascinating, right? Well, it didn’t quite work out in the end. But there’s something better, faster and more deadly in the works. Imagine hypersonic weapons (conventional or nuclear warheads) that can reach speeds higher than mach 8 or even mach 20, which is 20 times the speed of sound. Unlike ballistic missiles, these projectiles are hard to follow and destroy because of their low altitudes and erratic flight paths, not to mention the blistering speeds that leave little time to react. China and Russia already have hypersonic projectiles in development. The U.S. has been testing its own weapon systems for quite some time, and it’s on a good path to catch up if the latest HiFiRE program is any indication. (A scramjet missile reached mach 8 in 12 seconds.)
I call it “the B-2 of the undersea,” and for others it goes by the name of Columbia-class submarine. In its 42 years of expected service life, it will not require a single refueling, because of its nuclear fuel core. Like the B-2, this submarine is all about stealth. This effect is greatly improved thanks to its electric drive — a propulsion system that uses an electric motor, which is quieter than its counterpart, the mechanical drive. This makes the submarine harder to be discovered by enemy sonar, as well as easier to maintain. Construction is scheduled for 2021, and the submarine is expected to enter service in 2031.
Future Surface Combatant (FSC) is the working title of an up-and-coming destroyer, destined to replace Zumwalt- and Arleigh-Burke class destroyers in 2030. The Zumwalt-class is an amazing piece of technology in its own right — it’s stealthy and compatible with future tech like lasers and railguns, so it’s safe to assume that FSC will need to trump those features. (Spoiler: It will.) FSC will be outfitted with low-cost laser weapons powered by the ship’s own electric-drive system capable of generating 58 megawatts of on-board electrical power. More important than lasers, however, is its modularity feature, which means that the ship will be much easier, faster and considerably cheaper to upgrade with new weapons and gear (“modules”) than is currently the case.
War is a grim business, and global forces are ramping up their efforts to remain militarily relevant. New futuristic weapons are yet again changing the way we fight and negotiate peace, and my hope is that they serve as deterrents from future conflicts, rather than tools to escalate global unrest.
What do you think? Are we at a brink of a global conflict? Is the U.S. military ahead in the global arms race, or just playing catch-up? Let me know in the comment section below.