The US Air Force signs a $344 million deal to purchase hypersonic chaos jets

The US Air Force has awarded defense contractor Leidos $334 million to develop the next stage in its hypersonic arsenal: a hypersonic spy drone vehicle dubbed the Chaos.

This latest contract comes less than a week after the USAF announced the successful test of its first operational hypersonic weapon (defined as capable of traveling faster than Mach 5 while maintaining maneuverability), or air-launched rapid response weapon. , or ARRW.

Unlike the ARRW, the Leidos Mayhem Award isn’t just about building a weapon—it’s for the “multi-mission ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and Strike, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) program and attack aircraft.” A warhead will fit, but this is a lot like a photon torpedo/probe/space ark from Star Trek: customizable to meet mission needs.

“This program is focused on delivering a larger-class, air-breathing hypersonic system capable of multi-mission execution with a unified payload interface, providing significant technological advances and future capabilities,” the Department of Defense said last week.

The Mayhem’s air-breathing design also differs from the ARRW, which uses a missile system and glider to hit targets. No hypersonic strike vehicle has been built yet, though — Leidos said its initial award of $24 million for system requirements and conceptual design reviews in a digital environment — is quite preliminary.

The maximum prize is $334 million, but is otherwise “an indefinite/indefinite quantity delivery contract with a cost plus fixed fee… for research and development” as part of Mayhem. In other words, the bill will only increase.

The USAF’s Project Mayhem has been public knowledge since 2020, but little is known about the actual purpose of the classified program. Chaos was thought to have involved the development of a new hypersonic attack aircraft until an actual contract opportunity was posted, revealing it to be the aforementioned ISR multirole and strike vehicle.

As a jet engine platform, the Mayhem is more similar to DARPA’s Hypersonic Air-Breath-Deploying Weapon (HAWC) weapon concept than the USAF’s ARRW missile. DARPA successfully tested the HAWC missiles earlier this year and believes they are also ready for real-world use.

Hypersonic weapons aren’t limited to traveling at only Mach 5. One hypersonic design tested by Lockheed Martin in 2010 has been shown to be capable of reaching speeds of Mach 20, which could allow it to traverse the continental United States in as little as 12 minutes. Chaos is only described as being able to travel “long distances at speeds greater than Mach 5”, though it is likely to be slightly faster as well.

The stated goal of the US government is to develop hypersonic weapons capable of striking anywhere in the world within an hour.

No matter the pace, the mess will be nothing more than a blink in the eye of a multi-year defense contractor — the Department of Defense has said it doesn’t expect work on the project at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to be completed until October 2028 — if all goes well. ®

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