Lockheed shows plans for hypersonic spy plane; focus on low cost
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N: Quote) unveiled plans on Friday for a hypersonic spy plane that could fly at Mach 6, twice as fast as its famed SR-71 Blackbird, and said a missile demonstrating the new technology could fly as early as 2018.
Brad Leland, the Lockheed engineer who has headed the seven-year research effort, said the new aircraft, dubbed the SR-72, was designed using off-the-shelf materials to keep it affordable in the current tough budget environment.
He said the new plane offered game-changing capabilities to the military - and a twin-engine demonstrator jet that could reach any target in an hour could be developed for under $1 billion in five to six years.
"Hypersonic is the new stealth," Leland told Reuters in an interview. "Your adversaries cannot hide or move their critical assets. They will be found. That becomes a game-changer."
The new aircraft would travel three times as fast as current fighter jets, which can reach speeds of Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, and it could be outfitted with light weapons to strike targets.
Aviation Week first reported Lockheed's work on the project earlier on Friday in a cover article entitled "Son of Blackbird." Lockheed developed the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird, a long-range manned spy plane, 50 years ago. A few of those planes remained in service until 1999.
Details of the new hypersonic spy plane project emerged days after Lockheed, the Pentagon's biggest supplier, teamed up with No. 2 supplier Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) to develop a bid for the Pentagon's new long-range bomber.
Lockheed, Boeing and other big weapons makers are pressing the Pentagon to continue funding new aircraft development programs despite big cuts in military spending, arguing that a retreat from such projects could undercut U.S. military superiority in years to come. Continued...