The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the US Air Force share a vision of a new transformational capability that aims to provide a means of delivering a substantial payload from within the continental United States (CONUS) to anywhere on Earth in less than two hours.
This capability would free the U.S. military from reliance on forward basing to enable it to react promptly and decisively to destabilizing or threatening actions by hostile countries and terrorist organizations.
The US Government's vision of an ultimate prompt global reach capability (circa 2025 and beyond) is engendered in a reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle (HCV). It is envisioned that this autonomous aircraft would be capable of taking off from a conventional military runway and striking targets 9,000 nautical miles distant in less than two hours.
It could carry a 12,000-pound payload consisting of Common Aero Vehicles (CAVs), cruise missiles, Small Diameter Bombs (SDB) or other munitions. HCVs as part of the future U.S. force structure will provide the country dominant capability to wage a sustained campaign from CONUS on an array of time-critical targets that are both large in number and diverse in nature while providing aircraft-like operability and mission recall capability.
The US Government is interested in innovative HCV concepts utilizing novel technologies that mitigate heat load and extend range. Such innovative concepts could enable effective prompt global reach missions and potentially provide a reusable first stage of a two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) access to space vehicle. This vision is consistent with the goals of the DoD/NASA National Aerospace Initiative.
The United States, however, needs a prompt global reach operational capability in the much nearer term (see AF Space Command Operationally Responsive Spacelift and Prompt Global Strike Mission Need Statements).
This near-term operational capability is embodied in the CAV munitions delivery system integrated with a low-cost, operationally responsive, rocket booster. Essentially, CAV is an unpowered, maneuverable, hypersonic glide vehicle capable of carrying approximately 1,000 pounds in munitions or other payload. This concept has been studied since the mid-nineties and conceptual designs utilizing existing technologies have been developed that offer substantial capability.
CAV designs based on existing technologies are predicted to have a downrange glide on the order of 3,000 nautical miles. Advanced CAV designs have also been developed that offer substantially greater downrange (approximately 9,000 nautical miles) and improved maneuverability (approximately 3,000 nautical miles cross-range). This enhanced performance CAV, henceforth referred to as the Enhanced CAV, requires significant technology development particularly in the areas of thermal protection and guidance, navigation, and control.
In the far-term, the HCV itself could deliver CAVs to multiple targets. In the near-term, CAV requires a launch vehicle or other means of attaining its pierce point conditions in terms of geo-location, altitude, attitude and velocity. Expendable rocket boosters offer adequate near-term capability.
However, existing booster systems are costly and in limited supply. As a consequence, The US Government intends to develop a low-cost, responsive launch vehicle called the Small Launch Vehicle (SLV) under the FALCON program. The program envisions the SLV design being integrated and developed in parallel with the Enhanced CAV design.
The SLV should serve a two-fold function in that it will also provide a low-cost, responsive launch capability for placing small satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO). A total cost per launch (not including payload specific costs) of five million dollars or less is desired. Taken together, the two objectives satisfied by the SLV are a significant spiral in the development of an Operationally Responsive Spacelift (ORS) capability currently being pursued by the Air Force.
Substantial commonality exists between the key technologies that will enable the Enhanced CAV in the near-term and the HCV in the far-term. As a consequence, CAV (using available technologies), Enhanced CAV, and HCV are viewed to lie on a common evolutionary design and technology maturation path.
Therefore, the FALCON program will be an incremental program in that as key capabilities are matured and demonstrated in flight, opportunities will be generated to spiral them into Systems Development and Demonstration (SDD) programs that will provide successive enhancements to the country's capability to perform prompt global strike missions from CONUS (or equivalent reach from alternative US basing).
Recent military engagements in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq have underscored both the capabilities and limitations of United States air forces in terms of placing ordnance on military targets. While advancements in target identification and precision strike have been abundantly demonstrated, deficiencies in engaging and defeating time-critical and high value, hard and deeply buried targets (HDBT) have also been revealed.
Moreover, the current and future international political environment severely constrains this country's ability to conduct long-range strike missions on high-value, time critical targets from outside CONUS (OCONUS).
This restriction coupled with the subsonic cruise speed limitations of the current bomber fleet translates to greatly extended mission times. Consequences include failure to successfully engage and destroy a large subset of high value, time-critical targets, severe reduction in the tonnage of ordnance that can be placed on targets within a given timeframe, and excessive physical and emotional fatigue levied upon bomber crews.
The US Strategic Command has a critical need for responsive, effective, and affordable conventional strike to provide deterrence, power projection and coercion, delivering munitions in minutes to hours globally from CONUS (or equivalent reach from alternative US basing). The intent is to hold adversary vital interests at risk at all times, counter anti-access threats, serve as a halt phase shock force and conduct suppression of enemy air defense and lethal strike missions as part of integrated strategic campaigns in the Twenty-First Century.
During the high-threat early phases of an engagement, critical mission objectives include the rollback of enemy Integrated Air Defenses (IADs) and the prosecution of high-value targets. Throughout the remainder of the campaign, a continuous vigilance and immediate lethal strike capability are required to effectively prosecute real-time and time-critical targets and to maintain persistent suppression of enemy IADs. A system capable of responsively and effectively performing these mission objectives would provide a "no win" tactical deterrence against which an enemy's defenses would be ineffective.
The US Government acknowledges the differences between past research and development programs, and the FALCON vision. However, the importance of leveraging the lessons learned from past programs should not be minimized.
The US Government expects the Offeror to utilize to the maximum extent possible the knowledge base gained from past programs. This leveraging of capabilities can be accomplished, in part, through teaming with partners that possess expertise in critical technology areas.
One important deviation from past approaches will be the major emphasis upon incremental flight-testing in the FALCON program. The US Government desires technologies be developed in the context of a "building block" flight test approach and that the FALCON program remain demonstration-focused.
The US Government seeks to open up the design space and provide a catalyst for exploring "clean sheet of paper" system design philosophies and global strike mission scenarios especially for far-term approaches. Creative integration of the latest advances across a broad suite of component technologies, and innovative CONOPS will enable a revolutionary advance in global strike capabilities.
The Offeror is encouraged to "think out of the box" and propose unique collaborative design methodologies, analysis tools, processes, capabilities, concepts, innovative teaming arrangements and business practices to reduce the cost of product development.
Editor's Note: This is a slightly edited version of the initial introduction of an introduction report issued by the US Govt to explain the Falcon Project. The complete report can be downloaded from DARPA as a 500 MB word document as most recently amended. Several charts are included along with specific details on the technology baselines envisaged for the Falcon Project.
The Falcon Concept Explained - 500MB Word Doc
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