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USAF Developing New "SR-72" Supersonic Spy?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the next-comes-high-altitude-flak-cannons dept.

Science 428

Kadin2048 writes "According to an Air Force Times article, the famed Lockheed Martin 'Skunk Works' may be hard at work on a new supersonic spy plane (with 'artist concept') for the U.S. military, to replace the SR-71 'Blackbird' retired a decade ago. Dubbed by some the SR-72, the jet would be unmanned and travel at about 4,000 MPH at as much as 100,000 feet, with 'transcontinental' range. Some have speculated that new high-speed spy planes could be a U.S. response to anti-satellite weapons deployed by China, in order to preserve reconnaissance capabilities in the event of a loss of satellite coverage. Neither the Air Force nor Lockheed Martin would comment on the program, or lack thereof."

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428 comments

better hope it's real stealthy (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587441)

Given the size of the thing, and the speed and height it flies at, that's going to look a lot like a missile. Might not be the best thing for an already paranoid enemy to see.

fsdf 53tgvzxcreahb fg agasgdgu nbcxfharefdawsggtt (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587569)

fdsagrgv btgv 09rbgq gav bfeasb thgv 7dbt4qbavusvgr98zrab frevbrebtq9r jbv rehbaigbyrvg dsvfd;ghabfsaf fvsdvfblkjrgewangsfaf0ejegkjr0ak0ree3sgdgvasgofans dfnsdafgrg65236 5t3 be3hy5t teerabet63q

Re:fsdf 53tgvzxcreahb fg agasgdgu nbcxfharefdawsgg (5, Funny)

CommunistHamster (949406) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588019)

Gentlemen, this may be the very first sighting of this new spyplane on Slashdot. Observe the shape made by the bold text under a resolution of 640*480 @ 60Hz.

Huge penis failure (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587665)

In your pants. [goatse.cz]

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (3, Informative)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587879)

If it's anything like the SR-71, it won't be an issue whether they see it or not, they'll just accelerate. The Blackbird was a horribly un-stealthy plane, seen from hundreds of miles away by radar. However, while they were shot at quite frequently, they were never destroyed by enemy fire because of their speed and altitude. If a new version is in the works and this isn't just the same rumor that's been passed around for years, then it could easily incorporate the same defense mechanism.

I think the AC's point was retaliation (4, Insightful)

benhocking (724439) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587997)

As in Mutually Assured Destruction, if the SR-72 were falsely interpreted as a nuclear missile. I doubt that would happen, but I believe that was the point of the "first post".

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (2, Interesting)

MadUndergrad (950779) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588139)

What about laser weapons, though? They weren't nearly as advanced back when the 71 was flying, but (iirc) they can destroy satellites with them now. Wouldn't targeting a high-flying plane like the 72 be similar to hitting a satellite? I can't imagine the maneuverability would be very good at those speeds.

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (4, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588271)

Assuming such lasers exist, shooting down a satellite is much, much harder than hitting any airplane. The satellite has a known trajectory that doesn't change much over the course of weeks, making it very easy to plan exactly how to fire the laser. Also, a satellite will change a few degrees per second at most.

On the other hand you have an aircraft traveling at mach 6. This requires you to accurately plot the trajectory, get the laser in place and aimed and firing for however long it needs to be concentrated on the same spot, all in a matter of minutes. Assuming the laser needs to be concentrated on the same spot for 1 second, the aircraft will have traveled nearly a mile. Not an easy task.

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (1)

Carbonite (183181) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588311)

Assuming such lasers exist, shooting down a satellite is much, much harder than hitting any airplane.

From the rest of your argument, I think you meant that shooting down a plane (with a laser) is much harder than hitting a satellite.

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (1)

Stringer Bell (989985) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587991)

Ballistic missiles aren't that small, and cruise missiles don't fly that high or fast. A paranoid enemy spotting this thing on radar is more likely to say to himself "WTF?" (or the Arab/Russian equivalent thereof.)

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588031)

I recall reading (I think it was in the book Skunk Works by Ben Rich) that stealth characteristics aren't particularly valuable for a plane with such massive engines. For example, the exhaust trail of the SR-71 was so hot that the heated air actually was visible on radar, even if the aircraft itself wasn't.

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (2, Informative)

icegreentea (974342) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588119)

apparently its almost impossible to make something that fast stealthy, as the gas shooting out of it is superheated to the point where it actually reflects radar. thus, they're going to detect a couple hundred mile long radar contact moving at speeds lower than a ballistic missle, and in a non ballistic path.

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (3, Informative)

rogerborn (236155) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588169)

One. It is not the SR-72. It is not even the SR-75 or the 79. Those designations are already being used for other vehicles. Nor is it likely called the AM-11 or the A-17, nor even the 'Stealth Triangle.' To the rest of us, its designation is unknown.

Two. It does not generate heat through the atmosphere, nor does it require 'fuel' in the normal sense.

Three. It is not exactly stealthy, since it 'glows' somewhat at night. However, due to its tremedous speed and its operating silence, it still maintains an element of surprise with a target.

Four. The basic shape is triangular, but that is not its only shape. You would not believe that the Air Force or any other branch of the government would reveal the stealth fighter (F-117) and the stealth bomber (B-2) to the public and the world, if they did not already have something much more advanced and in production, did you?

What can we gather from all this? Evidently, the great secret and the power of the new craft are its propulsive 'engines' which may or may not be magnetic in nature. Therefore, if they are so radical, I wonder if they can only work within the atmosphere, or if they indeed have been used to go to other nearby bodies in space?

But, what do I know? I just live near a base where they test out its weapons delivery. Your mileage may vary.

"If it doesn't work out the way you want it to, it will work out the way its supposed to be."

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588329)

Weapons delivery on a recon plan? what do you know, indeed.

Re:better hope it's real stealthy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588301)

The current official response from the US Playbook to an attack on American space assets is WWIII. Everyone would lose in such a scenerio, but not like Bejing would.

Pilot not required? (-1)

stevesliva (648202) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587465)

I'd assume they wouldn't want or need a pilot, but that's not mentioned.

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

MonorailCat (1104823) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587509)

I believe the full article said it's designed to be unmanned, regardless, reconnaissance aircraft are the best candidates for going unmanned, the missions tend to be simple, tedious, often dangerous, and requiring little extemporaneous thinking.

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

HaeMaker (221642) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587579)

I agree, especially since most of our satellites are unmanned. /I just couldn't pass that up. //I say most, because of the ISS.

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

Lord Crc (151920) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587593)

And, I guess, if they're shot down, there's no pilot captured by the baddies, which is a tad harder to explain away than a bunch of debris.

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

The Great Pretender (975978) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587867)

They'd probably just find a piece with "Made in China" stamped on it.

Re:Pilot not required? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587891)


And, I guess, if they're shot down, there's no pilot captured by the baddies, which is a tad harder to explain away than a bunch of debris.


We are talking about overflying other countries without their consent and explaining it away when we get caught, but they are the "baddies?"

Moral compass for sale. Will point whichever way you want it to.

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587927)

That does highlight the one area in which you'd want a pilot, though, and that's to make sure that no real technology falls into the enemy's hands. If there's one thing that can't go wrong, it's the contingency of having one get captured.

To the person with the "clever" moral compass comment, just because the US is performing reconnaissance doesn't make them the bad guy. Or are you saying that all through both world wars and the cold war the US was morally wrong to perform flyovers?

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

Teifion (1022083) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588051)

To the person with the "clever" moral compass comment, just because the US is performing reconnaissance doesn't make them the bad guy. Or are you saying that all through both world wars and the cold war the US was morally wrong to perform flyovers?

I believe he is commenting on the fact that though the US and indeed, just about any country, portrays themselves as "the good guys" to their citizens, these same countries would perform spy operations on the enemy country, maybe even in times of peace. I don't really think he said or meant (though he might have) that they are the goodies, just that the contrast between the two isn't quite as clear cut as it's made out to be.

I sadly do not know a lot of about the Cold War but I'd say that as long as such flyovers do not raise tensions or create annoyance, they are a good idea as they provide proof that the country being flown over is not preparing something big.

Re:Pilot not required? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588185)


To the person with the "clever" moral compass comment, just because the US is performing reconnaissance doesn't make them the bad guy. Or are you saying that all through both world wars and the cold war the US was morally wrong to perform flyovers?


There is no need to explain away anything when doing legitimate reconnaissance. If a reconnaissance flight is shot down over hostile territory, then we just send another.

What we are talking about here is the difference between reconnaissance (Action during war. No excuses or explanations needed) and spying (and lying about it when we get caught). If Iraq were to overfly the US on a "reconnaissance" mission today, we would be frothing at the mouth with moral indignation.

And Yes, much of what the US and USSR did in the cold war was morally wrong. Most of today's problems that can't be traced to the British drawing a line on a map can be traced to the US and USSR playing chess with the world.

I'm not saying that it might not be convenient to know what everyone is doing (even during peacetime) But to excuse any action that we deem "necessary" while hurling judgmental titles like "baddies" at others smacks of a lack of self awareness.

Re:Pilot not required? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588319)

To the person with the "clever" moral compass comment, just because the US is performing reconnaissance doesn't make them the bad guy. Or are you saying that all through both world wars and the cold war the US was morally wrong to perform flyovers?

Well, normally when you send your military forces into another country without permission it is called an act of war.

Of course, the Russians and the Chinese spy on the USA all the time. They don't tend to use spy planes though.

Re:Pilot not required? (2, Insightful)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588357)

That does highlight the one area in which you'd want a pilot, though, and that's to make sure that no real technology falls into the enemy's hands.

That's what the C4/Thermite is for. Debris isn't worth much when all that's left won't even fill a teaspoon.

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587603)

Add to that other bonuses of not having a human on board, like not worrying about g-forces and being able to self destruct if need be.

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

SparkyFlooner (1090661) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587681)

*sigh*

Ok fine. I'll fly it.

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

iamhassi (659463) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587917)

"I'd assume they wouldn't want or need a pilot, but that's not mentioned."

what do you mean it's not mentioned??

FTFA:
"The new jet -- being referred to by some as the SR-72 -- is likely to be unmanned"

looks like it was mentioned to me...

Re:Pilot not required? (1)

sweetlipsbutterhoney (1018188) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587995)

We all know the pilot is going to be D.A.R.Y.L.

"Developing?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587517)

I bet the fact that they leaked that a contract had been awarded means the damn thing is already flying.

Re:"Developing?" (1)

Ruprecht the Monkeyb (680597) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588335)

That's just what they want you to think. Much cheaper than actually building one.

A few comments... (4, Insightful)

Valdez (125966) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587567)

The new jet -- being referred to by some as the SR-72 -- is likely to be unmanned and, while intended for reconnaissance, could eventually trade its sensors for weapons.
I'd be interested to see what kind of weapon they're planning to pop out the bottom of this thing @ Mach 6. Doesn't seem like a terribly bright idea...

Second, friction at high speeds could reduce stealth.
At some point, you don't need the stealth, because by the time anyone realizes you're coming and gets some sort of weapon 100k ft into the air, you'll probably have already landed.

I hate to state the obvious, but the article is pretty sensational... I can summarize:

Cower before our unmanned 6000mph stealthy black aircraft! If the Mach 6 shockwave doesn't get you, the nuclear handgrenades it carries will!

Re:A few comments... (2, Interesting)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587677)

Eh, I suppose it could have a hatch situated between the engines on the rear of the plane, but anything it would drop would be extremely small an realatively very light as they wouldn't want to weigh down the plane any more than necessary. All in all, a very inefficient way to go dropping ordinance on people.

Re:A few comments... (1)

Fishead (658061) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588149)

Seems like an efficient way to intercept an ICBM. Shouldn't be a problem mounting a 50 calibre machine gun on the belly.

Re:A few comments... (2, Interesting)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587693)

There's work being done on lasers that are eventually intended for mounting under the F-35, so it may not be that much of a stretch to see one or two of those mounted in something like this. I don't know how badly 20 miles of atmosphere would attenuate the beam, but if it's for surgical strikes against soft targets (where a soft target could even be relatively heavily armored, but not under 30 feet of reinforced concrete), such a pinpoint ability could be exceedingly valuable in hitting targets in urban areas without the collateral damage of even the Small-Diameter Bomb (which still weighs in at 250 pounds).

Re:A few comments... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587915)

The SR 71 was a reconnaissance aircraft, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SR71 [wikipedia.org] . It was equipped with infared camera's and ECM's. I would think the plane would probably smack its self into any payload it carried. The new one would probably be used for the same purpose.

Re:A few comments... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588263)

I could see the weapon system being a high powered laser...

Already got one of these (4, Funny)

Skreech (131543) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587575)

I already have an SR-72.

http://www.apogeerockets.com/SR72_Darkbird_Kit.asp [apogeerockets.com]

It doesn't go 4,000mph, though. It just sits there. I think I was ripped off.

Already got one? (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588071)

ARTHUR [sacred-texts.com] : Go and tell your master that we have been charged by God with a sacred quest. If he will give us food and shelter for the night he can join us in our quest for the Holy Grail.
GUARD: Well, I'll ask him, but I don't think he'll be very keen... Uh, he's already got one, you see?

Particle beam weapon (0, Offtopic)

hwstar (35834) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587583)

I suspect it could be shot down with a particle beam weapon. With the particle beam traveling at a good fraction of the speed of light, it would be vulnerable.

Re:Particle beam weapon (5, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587797)

It's also vulnerable to psionic telekinetic mutants who could pull the thing to Earth and then disassemble it with their minds.

Re:Particle beam weapon (3, Funny)

Kagura (843695) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587873)

I hope you get modded up to at least Insightful +3.

Re:Particle beam weapon (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588207)

Interesting comment. I think it should also be pointed out that this plan would be vulnerable to magic, dragons that can fly really fast, and UFOs.

RS-71 (5, Interesting)

narced (1078877) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587615)

I'm sure a lot of you guys already know this, but for those that don't...

The SR-71 Blackbird was originally named the RS-71, but it was renamed when Lyndon Johnson accidentally rearranged the letters during his 1964 announcement of the existence of the SR-71 (which he was supposed to call RS-71). Anyway... airplane history for ya'll.

Re:RS-71 (5, Informative)

Napoleon The Pig (228548) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587743)

Not quite...
"Conventional" wisdom now says that then president Lyndon B. Johnson messed up the designation in his public announcement and called it the SR-71 - and nobody wanted to correct the president. Because the strike mission had been cancelled anyway, "SR" was quickly reinterpreted as "Strategic Reconnaissance". However, a first-hand witness of those events recently revealed in Aviation Week & Space Technology, that LBJ did not misread anything. In fact, then USAF Chief of Staff LeMay simply didn't like the "RS" designator - he already objected it when the RS-70 was discussed, preferring "SR-70". When the RS-71 was to be announced, he wanted to make sure it would be called SR-71 instead. He managed to have LBJ's speech script altered to show "SR-71" in all places. Using archived copies of LBJ's speech, it can actually be verified that it reads SR-71 both in the script and on the tape recording. However, the official transcript of the speech, created from the stenographic records and handed to the press afterwards, shows "RS-71" in three places. It seems that not the president but a stenographer did accidentally switch the letters, and thus create a famous aviation "urban legend".
http://www.designation-systems.net/usmilav/nonstan dard-mds.html#_MDS_SR71 [designation-systems.net]

Re:RS-71 (1)

HTTP Error 403 403.9 (628865) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587925)

"Conventional" wisdom now says that then president Lyndon B. Johnson messed up the designation in his public announcement and called it the SR-71 - and nobody wanted to correct the president...
Can we call it the SR-Marisa Tomei? [snopes.com]

Re:RS-71 (5, Informative)

boster (124383) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587761)

According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] :

Name and designation

The USAF had planned to redesignate the A-12 aircraft as the B-71 as the successor to the B-70 Valkyrie. The B-71 would have a nuclear capability of 3 first-generation SRAM's (Short-Range Attack Missiles). The next designation was RS-71 (Reconnaissance-Strike) when the strike capability became an option. However, then USAF Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay preferred the SR (Strategic Reconnaisance) designation and wanted the RS-71 to be named SR-71. Before the Blackbird was to be announced by President Johnson on 29 February 1964, LeMay lobbied to modify Johnson's speech to read SR-71 instead of RS-71. The media transcript given to the press at the time still had the earlier RS-71 designation in places, creating the myth that the president had misread the plane's designation.[1][2]

Re:RS-71 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587785)

Actually thats not true, if you read the book called Skunk Works Ben Rich explains that they had already decided to change the name but the documents that the press received weren't updated. Therefore to the press it looked like the President screwed up but really he didn't.

Incorrect according to wiki (2, Insightful)

Blahbooboo3 (874492) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587837)

Sorry, no dyslexia for LBJ :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SR-71_Blackbird#Name_ and_designation [wikipedia.org]

USAF Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay preferred the SR (Strategic Reconnaisance) designation and wanted the RS-71 to be named SR-71. Before the Blackbird was to be announced by President Johnson on 29 February 1964, LeMay lobbied to modify Johnson's speech to read SR-71 instead of RS-71. The media transcript given to the press at the time still had the earlier RS-71 designation in places, creating the myth that the president had misread the plane's designation.

Did anyone really believe the Airforce's line? (2, Insightful)

InsidiousDarkLord (1118115) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587623)

When they SR-71 was retired, they claimed it was no longer necessary as satellites could do the job. I assumed they had a replacement aircraft in place.

Re:Did anyone really believe the Airforce's line? (1)

evil agent (918566) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587685)

If they really thought that satellites were good enough, they probably changed their thinking once China starting shooting them down [slashdot.org] .

Re:Did anyone really believe the Airforce's line? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587817)

When they SR-71 was retired, they claimed it was no longer necessary as satellites could do the job. I assumed they had a replacement aircraft in place.

Naaw, c'mon, the Air Force stopped designing secret planes after the F117A was unveiled. That makes all kinds of sense, doesn't it? ;)

(BTW, it's about time, guys, to juice up some airshows with some new hotness!)

Re:Did anyone really believe the Airforce's line? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588115)

<tinfoil hat>
Maybe this is the replacement for the SR-71's replacement which we just don't know anything about.
</tinfoil hat>

Re:Did anyone really believe the Airforce's line? (1)

mikee805 (1091195) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588147)

I always figured that too. Especially since the tinfoil hat crowd was already talking about project Aurora [google.com] . Funny to because the other day I was just thinking about how they havent pulled out a surprise recon aircraft on us in a while.

erm if you look at the picture (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587627)

that's clearly a submarine. And at 4000MPH, a flaming fast submarine too!

there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587631)

The new aircraft would offer a combination of speed, altitude and stealth that could make it virtually impervious to ground-based missiles, sources said. Even the SR-71 is said to have evaded hundreds of missiles fired at it during its long career, although some aircraft sustained minor damage.
kind of like how they thought the U-2 was beyond missiles isn't it? The shear amount of heat coming off the plane should be easily noticeable to any system capable of detecting infared. That combined with potential laser defenses [at least in current development] there is no such thing as "out-running" a laser system.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

Ticklemonster (736987) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587733)

I guess every laser system they tested against it failed to bring it down. No wait, there aren't any.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587825)

Or perhaps a powerful directed radio signal. I've read that Blackhawk helicopters can crash if they get too close to a radio station. Just one of the downside of fly by wire controls. Can't find a link though.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588023)

You can't find a link because it's nonsense. Most military electronics are hardened against EMP, but you expect the Howard Stern Show to knock them out of the air? Not likely.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

harrkev (623093) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588193)

You underestimate the sheer destructive power of Howard Stern's stupidity.

My guess is the helicopters commited suicide rather than listen to him.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588369)

You can't find a link because it's nonsense. Most military electronics are hardened against EMP, but you expect the Howard Stern Show to knock them out of the air? Not likely.

Some radio waves common above the battlefield "will actually affect the electrons within the aircraft's flight controls as well as its fuel controls," he said, either putting a plane into an uncommanded turn or dive or turning off its fuel supply.


http://www.cheniere.org/misc/mixedsignals.htm/ [cheniere.org]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elaine_Scarry_and_Ele ctromagnetic_Interference/ [wikipedia.org]

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

BCW2 (168187) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587853)

Lasers through the atmosphere don't work. Patrticulate in the atmosphere heats and causes the beam to spread, not remain concentrated. Tracking would be very hard and without tracking you can't aim. Speed plus stealth will be very hard to beat.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

LabRat (8054) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588045)

Wow, these guys must really feel foolish having successfully tested a system that doesn't really work.
http://www.jinsa.org/articles/articles.html/functi on/view/categoryid/2517/documentid/2488/history/3, 2360,646,2517,2488 [jinsa.org]

I'll correct your statement: It's very difficult to make lasers work through the atmosphere. It's unlikely that our probable adversaries would have such a system in place that could challenge the proposed/rumored reconnaissance plane in a reasonable timeframe.

Fixed :)

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

TheWizardTim (599546) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587857)

You might not be able to our run a laser, however, shooting an object going 2200 mph at 100,000 feet is not an easy task. The tracking system would have to be very precise to get a good shot, and depending on how strong the laser is, might have to stay on target for a "long" (1 second?) time.

Funny story about the SR-71. I don't know if this is true, but it sounds right. The SR-71 would fly over Sweden to spy USSR. Sweden knew when this was going to happen and would scramble jets to intercept. One time, pushing as hard as the jet could take, they got a brief radar lock on the Blackbird. The jet was going as fast and as high as it could, and was in no position to fire even if they wanted to. Later the pilot got a cake from the SR-71 crew that read "Congratulations".

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587979)

Take the time to stop and think! When human airplane drivers are made redundant, the weakest link in combat aircraft design is eliminated thereby improving survivability and accuracy. That laser requires a human operator and by the time you even consider pushing the uber laser button that airplane will have all the pictures they need and be BVR (beyond visual range). I don't need to waste my resources designing a warp speed capable airplane if by the time a human considers responding it will be too late for that specific site. Not to mention once Americans analyze the pictures, you can expect a rocket propelled AGM-130 from 20 miles out flying nap-of-the-earth. So don't even think about erecting an early warning radar system (I guess now you know why the Russians are upset). Did I mention it is a 2000 lb bomb with remote TV guidance? Bottom line is that uber laser will be retracted into an underground silo only to be broken out for satellite busting. If you need to understand the underlying tactics, see the British about their invincible boats vs cheap airplanes.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588077)

They might have a chance at detecting it how do you use IR to guide the weapon? Kind of hard since the weapons own IR will probably blind it's sensors. Then add in that it will take a big missile to intercept a mach 6 vehicle at 100,000 that can maneuver.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

LabRat (8054) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588173)

Um, there have been IR-guided weapons for decades. Most apropos being THAAD [google.com]

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588343)

The THAAD makes it's interception at a much higher altitude than 100,000 feet. Take a look at the THAAD and you will see that the seeker window is protected by a shroud during the boost phase. To intercept a Mach 6 vehicle the missile will need to to fly at around Mach 8. Just think about how hot the seeker window will get at that speed and that low of an altitude. And yes at Mach 6-8 100k feet is low altitude.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588103)

Nobody ever thought the U-2 was immune to missles, they knew that it flew outside the engagment envelope of _current_ Soviet SAM systems but the CIA estimated that by sometime around 1960 Soviet SAM technology would advance far enough to make them vulnerable. When Powers was shot down in 1960 his flight was supposed to have been one of the last to go into Soviet airspace. Simply put they took a chance that they could pull it off one more time and lost.

Second its not enough to just detect the plane to shoot it down, you have to have a weapon that can engage it. The Soviets had known that planes (probaby US) were penetrating their airspace for some time, they just didn't have a weapon that could engage them yet. The higher and faster the plane flies the smaller the envelope of engagment (both in space and time). Altitude and speed don't make a plane invulnerable but they make them harder to hit and possibly invulnerable to _current_ air defence systems. Of course if there is a next-generation plane that can evade current missles then people will start work on next-generation missles (or laser, HPM, ...) to shoot them down.

It's a never ending game of cat and mouse.

Re:there's a good reason they dont use the SR71 (2, Interesting)

Shihar (153932) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588297)

"Laser defenses" are hardly worth losing much sleep over. In order to hit a target moving the speeds this thing moves and at the height it travels, you will not only need one very powerful laser, but a damn good targeting system. Even then, the laser can only hit what is in its horizon, with stuff on the horizon being extremely difficult to hit and taking even more power. Any such laser would be pretty damn big, pretty damn obvious, consume a very noticeable amount of juice, and be a big fat plump target.

Fears of laser defenses hardly justify much worry. Conventional missiles are probably far more worth worrying about, but even then you are talking about a very fast, very long range missile that probably looks more like a ballistic missile then a normal missile. And if they hit one? Oh no. They just killed a robot. The alternative is to use much larger and slower manned vehicles or rely on satellites... which China has shown it is capable of knocking down.

Breaking USAF news: (-1, Troll)

PurifyYourMind (776223) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587639)

I just pooped my cute little pants.

What about the Aurora? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587719)

What about the SR-91 Aurora? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587727)

Its existence hasn't been officially confirmed, but there is some evidence [wikipedia.org] that a successor to the SR-71 already exists.

New Name (4, Interesting)

El Torico (732160) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587767)

I was wondering when they'd have an official designation for Aurora [abovetopsecret.com] .

Sensationalist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587771)

Sounds like the beginning of another cold war.

Cold wars and hot wars start the same way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588217)

Cold wars and hot wars start the same way.

Necessary? (2, Interesting)

T-Bucket (823202) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587815)

Is this really even necessary? Un-mothball a couple SR-71s. Is there even anything that can bring one of those down?

Re:Necessary? (1)

run_w_xcors (1032842) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587885)

You mean like budget constraints?

Re:Necessary? (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587941)

Is there even anything that can bring one of those down?

Energy based weapons?

I mean, if they can knock a MIRV out of orbit then they can knock a SR-71 out of the sky.

Of course that would depend if the Russians or Chinese had such a system.

Re:Necessary? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19587971)

Yup there is. Way back when 2 pilots flying an SR-71 over russia had the missle lock light come on. They realized a russian missle was tailing them and catching up. They throttled it up the whole way, and the jet hit about mach 3.2 IIRC, which is faster than the jet was suppose to go. They barely got out of that situtation. There was also another time in Isreal where it almost got shot down when it was refueling because they wouldn't identify who or what they were.

Re:Necessary? (1)

gwern (1017754) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588107)

Not sure they *can* un-mothball them. Assuming they even still have the people around, I had heard that after the decommissioning, all the special molds and machinery and documentation were destroyed, so I doubt they'd even be able to make replacement parts, much less operate them effectively.

Movie stealth (0, Flamebait)

asadodetira (664509) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587839)

"In the near future, the Navy develops a fighter jet piloted by an artificial intelligence computer. The jet is placed on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific to learn combat manuevers from the human pilots aboard. But when the computer develops a mind of its own, it's the humans who are charged with stopping it before it incites a war" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0382992/ [imdb.com]

It will *never* surpass the SR-71 (0)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587845)

In coolness...

ahref=http://www.cnw.mk.ua/weapons/airforce/razv/s r71/image/sr71ff.jpgrel=url2html-9407 [slashdot.org] http://www.cn w.mk.ua/weapons/airforce/razv/sr71/image/sr71ff.jp g>

ahref=http://perso.orange.fr/romain.g/sr71-1.jpgre l=url2html-9407 [slashdot.org] http://perso.orange.fr/romain.g/sr7 1-1.jpg>

Will never be as *cool* as SR-71 (2, Interesting)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587877)

No joke. (2, Insightful)

mosel-saar-ruwer (732341) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588371)


Seriously.

The SR-71 is easily the baddest mofo of any item in either the Smithsonian's downtown Air & Space or Air & Space II in the big hangar out by the airport [which is where the SR-71 sits, right smack in the middle of the floor, dominating everything else around it].

Badder than the Wright Bros' biplane, badder than Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis, badder than Apollo 11, badder than the Space Shuttle.

Just one great big Samuel Jackson Pulp Fiction Bad Mofo of an airplane.

Concept sounds a lot like "Aurora" (2, Informative)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587945)

Except there was never any suggestion that Aurora [wikipedia.org] was "crew optional". Nothing solid provided by the article, but no one should be surprised if it turns out to be true.

That's no plane... (2, Funny)

popo (107611) | more than 7 years ago | (#19587953)

... its SeaQuest DSV!

USAF + Skunkworks + Google (2, Funny)

meccaneko (844665) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588005)

*I* heard it was going to be used by Gooogle to do the next run of Street views...

  1. supersonic stealth spy plane
  2. Google Streets
  3. ???
  4. Profit!

wouldn't be easier (1)

recharged95 (782975) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588007)

to make a more maneuverable/agile LEO satellite? And the lessons learn can be applied to the [manned] space program and vice versa...

Re:wouldn't be easier (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588117)

After the several comments about how vulnerable an SR-72 would be to particle beam or laser weapons (and is there a difference?), a LEO bird would seem to be a sitting duck comparatively.

What sort of LEO satellite would be more agile than an SR-71? And I'm assuming an SR-72 would be an improvement - always a questionable assumption dealing with the military. The Skunk Works will probably get it right.

ps - Sign me up to fly this puppy.

pps - This is forseeable. The X-Prize contestants have demonstrated several ways to accomplish this mission, all simplified by removing the need to carry tourists and crew. Way to go! Basic research is rarely this cheap for a spy plane!

Re:wouldn't be easier (1)

icegreentea (974342) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588175)

they can already move around, and i guess you could call them kinda agile. just no matter what, satellites must carrying all the fuel they're ever use in their lifetime in one liftoff, limiting just how much fuel you can carry. also, as the problem appears to be energy weapons, "dodging" the beam is nonsense. you can aviod them, but that means if china just throws up some of these energy weapons near every sensitive sight, they just created a big hole in your intelligence capabilities.

remember kids... (3, Funny)

Thaelon (250687) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588109)

If the headline ends in a question mark, it's not news.

Ok, so... (2, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588163)

They are probably building a waverider [aerodyn.org] that uses a ramjet [onera.fr] (4,000 MPH is way way too slow for a scramjet) with some sort of launch [alt-accel.com] assist [sci-toys.com] mechanism - there are several they can choose. Though they could also use a turbine-assisted ramjet [nii.ac.jp] or variant. Again, there are several.

Does it matter? Well, the first to build a working waverider aircraft was a Scottish amateur rocketry group. Story has it that when NASA and Boeing engineers saw footage of the vehicle flying, they were staring at the screen in sheer envy. They'd got no further than theory. We also all know the story of the New Zealander who has jet-propelled go-karts and his own low-cost cruise missile. And the Gauss Rifle linked to above didn't look too complex, either.

Although amateurs are very unlikely to be building supersonic or hypersonic spy planes in the near future, none of this looks so complex that it could not be done by other nations in comparable time. Don't think it won't happen - too many potential benefits. Variants will also inevitably be adopted by commercial space planes, as it's so much cheaper than using vanilla rocketry and should be much more reliable.

To me, the only question I think worth asking at this point is who will be there first? Lockheed-Martin, China or Rutan? (And after Lockheed's disastrous hovering shuttle replacement in the late 1990s, it's not wise to just assume they'll automatically win such a race.)

Re:Ok, so... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19588337)

"Story has it that when NASA and Boeing engineers saw footage of the vehicle flying, they were staring at the screen in sheer envy."

Doubtful Since NASA built one in '63 that has to be scrapped because funding went into bomber design.

News, but not really (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588215)

We've known it's been in the works for a while. Several interim projects were specifically to test portions of the technology, such as the pure evil on the wing looking Bird of Prey (http://www.boeing.com/news/releases/2002/q4/nr_02 1018m.html). The SR 72 design (often called Darkbird, though that's not official) is pretty much frozen. Air Force Times has an artists' rendering which is probably pretty close to the final result (http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2007/06/airforc e_sr72_070617/)

Tired of the same approach (-1)

tachyonmirror (1118129) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588355)

"The new aircraft would offer a combination of speed, altitude and stealth that could make it virtually impervious to ground-based missiles, sources said. Even the SR-71 is said to have evaded hundreds of missiles fired at it during its long career, although some aircraft sustained minor damage" 1) Engine is an air-breather. 2) Uses aerodynamic lift. Why couldnt we/enemy create either nano or biological (or both) spreadable agents/clouds to reduce oxygen in the vicinity of travel so the engines fail. Why couldnt we/enemy counter this with abrasive nano-particle(diamond based) clouds (kinda like nano-flak) to eat away the surfaces as it flies

by the looks of it... (0, Redundant)

ccbutler (840014) | more than 7 years ago | (#19588377)

by the looks of it, there is no way it would be launched from a conventional runway
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