This month, a Russian guided missile frigate had been conducting training exercises in the Norwegian Sea, which in itself isn’t especially notable. However, the Northern Fleet Frigate Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov is armed with nuclear-capable Tsirkon hypersonic missiles that can reach a top speed of Mach 9, or roughly 7,000mph.

From the frigid waters where the drills took place, the missiles could hit targets in the UK within minutes – highlighting the capabilities of hypersonic weapons.

However, speed has also been crucial to United States Air Force reconnaissance efforts, as noted by the Cold War-era Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, which relied on its ability to out fly any anti-aircraft missile that could launch in its direction. Rumors persist that the Lockheed Martin could now be working on a successor aircraft, the SR-72 Darkstar, which even had its moment in the spotlight in the recent Maverick: Top Gun where it was seen reaching Mach 10.

Such technology isn’t just movie magic, as this month Kratos Defense & Security Solutions’ Defense & Rocket System Services (DRSS) Division, in collaboration with Kratos’ Unmanned Systems Division, received a contract from its prime teammate and partner Leidos to support the Expendable Hypersonic Multi-Mission ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and Strike Program, known as Mayhem.

The new contract award will support the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) development of an air-breathing hypersonic weapon system over its initial 51-month period of performance. According to Kratos, the initial task order will conduct the System Requirements Review (SRR) and Conceptual Design Review (CoDR) in a Digital Engineering (DE) environment.

It was last month that Leidos won a $334 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to support the development of a larger class air-breathing hypersonic system that will employ a standardized payload interface to carry out multiple missions. In addition, Leidos will be responsible for model-based systems engineering and programming efforts under the 51-month project.

Project Mayhem?

The two defense firms will serve as members of the System Design Agent (SDA) team for the Mayhem program, which also includes Calspan and Draper. The goal is to design a system that allows rapid relevant technology insertions utilizing the expertise and capabilities from a variety of industry partners.

Mayhem was publicly revealed in August 2020, while the AFRL issued a contract notice in December 2021 for the HMMABV that would be capable of carrying larger payloads over further distances than allowed under current hypersonic capabilities. The system goal is to carry payloads five times the mass and double the range of current technology capability systems

At the time, it didn’t mention the potential for strike or ISR functions – but now appears the focus is on recon not taking out an enemy position.

The SDA team will aid in bringing the best of industry together to perform the research and development necessary for production of air-breathing multi-mission hypersonic system prototypes. It will further oversee designs, prototypes, and tests to ultimately produce and deliver a technical data package for high performance, relevant hypersonic weapon systems.

The air-breathing hypersonic systems will reportedly utilize scramjet engines to generate thrust, propelling the vehicle across long distances at speeds greater than Mach 5. The SDA team has been tasked with designing and developing a large-class version that surpasses current air-breathing systems in both range and payload capacity and is responsible for delivering a hypersonic system design to include airframe, propulsion system, booster, avionics, and vehicle subsystems.

“This opportunity will provide a unique capability for our Warfighters, and we’re excited to be part of the new Mayhem program. As a critical part of the SDA team, Kratos will drive mission success by leveraging our flight-proven agile digital engineering principles and extensive experience in high performance propulsion, hypersonic, and air vehicle design,” Dave Carter, president of DRSS, said in a statement.

Kratos has already successfully developed and flown several hypersonic ‘systems’ over the last decade, Carter noted.

“Our internally funded hypersonic investments in unique systems, including Zeus and Erinyes are beginning to pay dividends in important national security solutions,” Carter added.

Kratos President and CEO Eric DeMarco further suggested the company’s mission was to be a disruptive transformation agent to the U.S. National Security industrial base and market, rapidly designing, developing, producing and fielding affordable systems and technology.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.