U.S. Army Flickr Page Inadvertently Reveals New Hypersonic Weapon Concept
A new hypersonic weapon concept has emerged inadvertently on a social media page managed by U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy that describes a Mach 5-plus projectile with the ability to penetrate into defended airspace and dispense a multi-role loitering air system over a target area.
The concept—labeled as the Vintage Racer Loitering Weapon System—reveals a solution to an operational problem for the Army: When high-speed munitions, such as the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), enter service with the ability to strike targets thousands of kilometers away, how will the Army find the most elusive targets, such as road-mobile launchers for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) or radars for air defense batteries?
The Vintage Racer concept, as revealed so far, suggests it may be possible to launch a hypersonic projectile into a general area without knowing the specific location of the target. As it reaches the target area, the projectile may be able to dispense a loitering air system, which is then uses its own sensors to find and identify the target. If the loitering system also carries a warhead, it may be able to strike the target by itself or transmit the target coordinates to another weapon.
Once the existence of the Vintage Racer concept appeared, a Russian expert on military-political affairs noted such an idea has been discussed as a possibility within the hypersonic weapon community.
“The fear is that [this] hypersonic ‘something’ might reach the patrol area of road-mobile ICBM launchers [after] penetrating any possible air and missile defense, and then dispense loitering submunitions that will find launchers in the forests,” said Dmitry Stefanovitch, an expert at the Moscow-based Russian International Affairs Council.
Only the broadest information about the Vintage Racer weapon is visible on the briefing paper describing the concept.
The image appears in an album of photos from the Association of the U.S. Army convention posted to McCarthy’s Flickr account last October. Most of the pictures from the event show McCarthy meeting attendees, giving speeches and receiving informal, standing pitches from industry officials in the exhibit hall.
One picture shows McCarthy standing at a table across from an unidentified industry official in the exhibit hall. The table is covered with multiple objects, including a General Atomics press release, what appears to be a model of the LRHW and a rifled barrel of a 155mm artillery gun with a hole burned through the object.
The table also is covered with at least four sheets of briefing papers, of which three are not visible. The only visible paper, which is partly obscured by McCarthy’s right hand, is headlined “Vintage Racer - Loitering Weapon System (LWS) Overview.” The paper includes six main bullet points, which read “Hypersonic Ingress,” “Survivable,” “Time Over Target,” “Multi-role,” “Modular payload,” and “Cost Imposition Strategy.” Ten sub-bullets are also visible on the page, but the letters are not readable.
At the bottom of the page, a tag line highlighted in yellow is partly obscured by McCarthy’s hand, but the visible portion reads: “Long Range, Rapid Ingress.”
A vague reference to Vintage Racer previously appeared in Defense Department budget justification documents released in February, but went unnoticed. Under a line item owned by the Office of Secretary of Defense for a “quick reaction fund,” Vintage Racer is described as a “recent success story.”
“The project successfully validated aerodynamic design with wind tunnel testing and integrated a guidance subsystem for targeted kinetic effects before culminating in a fiscal 2019 flight test. Documentation and prototype technologies transitioned to the U.S. Army for additional development and follow-on acquisition activities,” according to budget documents.