Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
U.S. to Vet Hypersonic Global Strike Aircraft
The U.S. Air Force is scheduled on Tuesday to test a developmental hypersonic drone aircraft as part of an effort to develop technology capable of delivering a non-nuclear strike on any location in the world within one hour, the Los Angeles Times reported (see GSN, March 24, 2011).
A B-52 strategic bomber is expected to fly from Edwards Air Force Base in California and deploy the wing-mounted X-51A WaveRider off the state's southern coast at an altitude of 50,000 feet.
The remotely piloted device would drop for roughly four seconds before its initial propulsion equipment activates, bringing it to a speed exceeding 3,400 mph. That component would drop away after half a minute and a secondary propellant system would enter operation, bringing the craft to a maximum speed of more than 4,500 mph during a planned ascent to almost 70,000 feet.
The WaveRider is slated to fracture into pieces above the Pacific Ocean following a period of roughly 300 seconds, more than double its present record flying time. It reached 3,500 mph during its initial, 143-second trial in 2010, but in a test last year ended operations earlier than planned following a mechanical glitch.
The system is one of six large-scale hypersonic development projects the Defense Department said have absorbed up to $2 billion in funding over the last decade. The global strike initiatives are intended to offer an alternative to using long-range nuclear-tipped missiles to eliminate major imminent threats.
Globalsecurity.org has calculated the WaveRider project's expense to be $140 million (W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 13).
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