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Speed is undoubtedly the new stealth and the Pentagon's top weapons supplier just got one step closer to handing hypersonic weapons to the U.S. Air Force.
Lockheed Martin secured a $928 million contract to build an undefined number of hypersonic conventional strike weapons, the Pentagon said Wednesday in a statement.
Per the multimillion-dollar contract, Lockheed will be responsible for designing, engineering, weapon integration and logistical support.
The development will take place in the northern Alabama city of Huntsville which is dubbed the "Rocket City" as it was the birthplace of America's rocket program.
A hypersonic weapon is a missile that travels at Mach 5 or higher, which is at least five times faster than the speed of sound. That means a hypersonic weapon can travel about one mile per second.
For reference, commercial airliners fly subsonically, just below Mach 1 whereas modern fighter jets can travel supersonically at Mach 2 or Mach 3.
The Pentagon statement noted that the Bethesda-based defense giant was one of three offers received for the lucrative contract.
"We are excited to get to work on the hypersonic conventional strike weapon program," John Snyder, Lockheed Martin vice president of Air Force Strategic Programs, said in an emailed statement.
What's more, Lockheed Martin is in the process of developing the SR-72, a hypersonic unmanned plane dubbed the "son of the Blackbird."
And when it comes to developing a high-speed reconnaissance aircraft, the Pentagon's top weapons supplier is playing in its home court.
In 1976, the Air Force flew Lockheed Martin's SR-71 Blackbird from New York to London in less than two hours — at speeds exceeding Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound.
The SR-72 is envisioned to operate at speeds up to Mach 6. And while the hypersonic SR-72 isn't expected to be operational until 2030, the company sees developing a platform of that magnitude as a game changer.
"This could forever change our ability to deter and respond to conflict, allowing warfighters to quickly address threats before an adversary may have time to react," Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson said of the hypersonic plane last month.
Hewson also said the development of the aircraft, which is estimated to cost $1 billion, will change the "definition of air power by giving the U.S. significant tactical and strategic advantages."
On the heels of Hewson's comments, America's top nuclear commander described a grim scenario for U.S. forces facing off against hypersonic weapons.
"We don't have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us," Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month.
"Both Russia and China are aggressively pursuing hypersonic capabilities," Hyten added. "We've watched them test those capabilities."
And while the Pentagon seeks to catch up to America's adversaries, defense contractors will be vying for what will be several lengthy and lucrative contracts.