The US Air Force recently released a request for information with details on research into a hypersonic glide vehicle capable of intercontinental-range, before pulling the document from a public site.
This was first reported by Aviation Week’s Steve Trimble, who started inquiring about the document before it was erased.
What makes the issue contentious is that a US nuclear weapons agency is looking into the possibilities of hypersonic technology while Pentagon officials continue to say that all hypersonic gliders and missiles are limited to non-nuclear warheads under a strict policy.
According to the Aviation Week report, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s August 12 RFI asked companies for ideas on ICBM upgrades that would include “thermal protection system that can support a hypersonic glide to ICBM ranges.”
Several officials approached for comment confirmed that the service’s next-generation ICBM, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) will not be hypersonic when it is fielded in the late 2020s.
However, it is worth noting that, unlike the 50-year-old Minuteman III ICBM currently in service, the GBSD will have an open architecture, giving the Air Force the ability to upgrade and fit the weapon with technologies it deems necessary.
A contract for the development and delivery of around 600 GBSD ICBMs is expected to be awarded to Northrop Grumman this year. The company is the sole bidder in the program after Boeing withdrew last year.