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Hypersonic Operational Threats

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Applied Vehicle Technology

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Hypersonic flight is lacking a scientific definition, but is typically understood as flight within the atmosphere at speed around and beyond Mach 5. In this regime, dissociation of air starts to get significant and kinetic heating results in increasingly severe problems for a vehicle with increasing flight Mach number. Temperatures to be dealt with are about doubled between Mach 4 and 6 and quadrupled between Mach 4 and 9. Drag forces get huge and limit longer flight to altitudes within the stratosphere. Today, long duration flight at Mach numbers beyond 5 poses technological challenges with regard to structural materials and design, cooling and insulation, aerodynamics and flight control as well as propulsion by SCRAMJET (supersonic combustion ramjet), which are well beyond actual operational technologies; thus being a topic of various current research activities. Examples for hypersonic flight range from the X-15 experimental rocket plane of the 1960’s, various reentry capsules and experimental vehicles, the Space Shuttle and a number of newer experimental programs with the USAF X-51 as a most recent one. Hypersonic research is conducted by nations with highly developed R&D capabilities and adequate financial resources including the US, Australia, Russia, China, Europe and India. Hypersonic applications may revolutionize the future of warfare from a military capability perspective and are therefore considered as game changing technologies. As adversaries push out the boundaries of contested areas with advanced air defense systems, hypersonics counters the trend and allows greater standoff operations for first strike. In the past, NATO Science & Technology Organisation (STO) activities on hypersonics were mainly focused in the Applied Vehicle Technology (AVT) Panel. Recent and current AVT activities, as AVT-240 on ‘Hypersonic Boundary-Layer Transition Prediction’ and AVT-326 on ‘Flow Characterization and Modeling of hypersonic wind tunnels’ are from great interests for NATO and NATO nations. However, these activities represent only a snapshot of overall challenges which occur if nations want to apply hypersonic technologies. To provide NATO and NATO nations a holistic overview on hypersonics, an AVT Specialist Team is proposed to raise the Alliance’s awareness regarding this topic and support a national assessment on S&T activities.


1. To raise and create awareness on hypersonic threats to NATO and NATO nations 2. To inform military leaders, decision makers and staff on the opportunities for applying hypersonic technologies to military capabilities 3. To break down major technological challenges of hypersonics 4. To assess the current NATO and national capabilities and activities related to hypersonics 5. To identify remaining challenges and gaps of knowledge 6. To give recommendations to NATO and NATO nations on: a. Critical S&T activities and future programs b. Policies and doctrines c. Senior leadership support d. Leveraging and partnering To document findings and actively promote recommendations to military leaders, decision makers, staff and the NATO S&T community.


1. Aerothermodynamics a. Turbulence b. Boundary layer transition c. Shock-shock interaction d. Shock boundary layer interaction e. Ablation f. High temperature effects (non-equilibrium effects) g. High altitude environment h. Fluid structure interactions 2. High temperature materials 3. Guidance and control a. Predictive guidance b. Control surfaces c. Trimming 4. Propulsion a. Booster b. Ram jets, scram jets c. Divert and attitude control systems (DACS) 5. Systems architecture a. System design b. Vehicle configuration design c. Sensor integration d. Thermal management 6. Structures a. Multi material interfaces 7. Simulation, modelling, ground testing, flight testing, System integration related topics to be covered: 8. Threat analysis (SAS) 9. Implications for DOTMLPFI 10. Threat detection (find, fix, track, target hand off) (SET) 11. Data links and communication (IST) 12. Ground infrastructure (SAS) 13. Mission planning (SAS, SCI, NMSG) 14. Concepts of operations (SAS, SCI) a. Technical requirements for hypersonic applications (offensive or defensive) 15. Systems of Systems (SCI) a. Platform integration 16. Man in the loop (HFM)

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