AFRL's 'Mayhem' air-breathing hypersonic effort to include ISR, strike capabilities

By Briana Reilly / December 20, 2021 at 4:07 PM

The Air Force Research Laboratory is looking to incorporate strike and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities into its air-breathing hypersonic effort, according to a new contract notice, which clears the way for an anticipated request for proposals next month.

Called “Mayhem,” the system -- publicly revealed in August 2020 -- has been the focus of two requests for information in the time since, with the most recent one from summer 2021 indicating officials were considering employing a System Design Agent to facilitate development of the program.

Those notices showed the program, then referred to as the “Expendable Hypersonic Multi-Mission Air-Breathing Vehicle,” would be capable of carrying larger payloads over further distances than allowed under current hypersonic capabilities. But they didn’t mention the potential for strike or ISR functions -- both of which are represented in the push’s new name, as listed in this month’s contract notice: “Hypersonic Multi-mission ISR and Strike.”

The latest notice, initially published Dec. 14 but then updated Dec. 17, notes an RFP is anticipated for publication in January 2022, with a 45-day window for development and submission. The notice also lists an anticipated “program ceiling” of $371 million and continues to call for leveraging an SDA approach.

The effort, according to the initial Dec. 14 notice, includes three distinct payloads to execute multiple mission sets, all marked as Controlled Unclassified Information -- an “area effect payload,” a “large unitary payload” and a “responsive” ISR one, all designated to carry out “three key mission goals.” Earlier RFIs had outlined the need for a modular weapons bay with the trio of payloads, but lacked additional details.

“The system goal is to carry payloads five times the mass and double the range of current technology capability systems,” the Dec. 14 notice said. The line, along with the details about the payloads, was removed from the updated Dec. 17 notice.