Although it's been gone for 15-years, there still has never been anything like it. The SR-71 Blackbird was unbeatable for speed, altitude, range - just about everything. If you were nearby as it took off on afterburner, you felt your lungs reverberate inside your chest cavity. It's 2-man crew wore what were essentially space suits. It overflew hostile countries at Mach 3 and some say upwards of 80,000 feet. Israeli fighters once tried to intercept one monitoring one of their wars. They fired U.S.-made missiles from U.S.-made fighters at the SR-71 but the Habu simply outran the missiles. It was the crowning achievement of Lockheed's legendary Skunk Works run by the equally legendary designer, Kelly Johnson.
After years of silence on the subject, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. Dubbed the SR-72, the twin-engine aircraft is designed for a Mach 6 cruise, around twice the speed of its forebear, and will have the optional capability to strike targets.
Guided by the U.S. Air Force’s long-term hypersonic road map, the SR-72 is designed to fill what are perceived by defense planners as growing gaps in coverage of fast-reaction intelligence by the plethora of satellites, subsonic manned and unmanned platforms meant to replace the SR-71. Potentially dangerous and increasingly mobile threats are emerging in areas of denied or contested airspace, in countries with sophisticated air defenses and detailed knowledge of satellite movements.
A vehicle penetrating at high altitude and Mach 6, a speed viewed by Lockheed Martin as the “sweet spot” for practical air-breathing hypersonics, is expected to survive where even stealthy, advanced subsonic or supersonic aircraft and unmanned vehicles might not. Moreover, an armed ISR platform would also have the ability to strike targets before they could hide.