MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia and the United States are partnering to develop and test an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile under the bilateral Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment program, or SCIFiRE, the two countries announced Monday.
From the U.S. perspective, the effort falls under the Allied Prototyping Initiative, which is managed by the Directorate of Advanced Capabilities within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.
The program will be executed by the U.S. Air Force under the auspices of the weapons program executive officer, and it will leverage more than 15 years of collaboration on research into scramjets, rocket motors, sensors and advanced manufacturing materials between the two countries.
The agreement follows discussions between former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds during the bilateral Australia-US Ministerial Consultation talks held in Washington in July.
“SCIFiRE is a true testament to the enduring friendship and strong partnership between the United States and Australia,” Michael Kratsios, acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said in a statement. “This initiative will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the US and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational warfighting capability. We thank the Australian Department of Defence for their shared commitment to this game-changing effort.”
The SCIFIRE program will leverage the collaborative work undertaken in partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group, and the University of Queensland on the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation program.
The new weapon will be a Mach 5-class precision strike missile that is propulsion-launched and powered by an air-breathing scramjet engine. It’s expected to enter service within the next five to 10 years.
The head of Air Force capability at the RAAF Headquarters in Canberra, Air Vice Marshal Catherine Roberts, said the weapon will be capable of being carried by tactical fighter aircraft such as the F/A-18F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and F-35A Lightning II, as well as the P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.
Testing will take place in Australia, possibly at the Woomera Test Range in the remote outback of South Australia.
While no funding details have been released to date, Roberts said Australia’s recent Force Structure Plan 2020 included between AU$6.2 billion and AU$9.3 billion (U.S. $4.6 billion to U.S. $6.9 billion) for high-speed, long-range strike and missile defense capabilities, of which SCIFiRE is an example.
Though the RAAF is not currently seeking an industry prime to assist with the program, Roberts indicated that discussions with Australian small to medium enterprises will begin Friday.
“[The Australian Defence Science and Technology Group] has done some initial studies into our capabilities in Australia and we’re going to bring our industry partners on board. It’s not just a research and development initiative, we’re looking to actually field the capability,” she said.
Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.