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U.S. Hypersonic "Global Strike" Technology Successfully Tested
The U.S. Army on Thursday carried out a successful initial test of a cutting-edge technology that might be incorporated into a non-nuclear "prompt global strike" capability that could be targeted anywhere around the world within an hour (see GSN, Nov. 14).
The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon test vehicle was fired by means of a three-stage booster system at 6:30 a.m. from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The vehicle stayed inside the earth's atmosphere, traveling at hypersonic speeds toward its programmed destination point at the Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll, according to a Defense Department press release.
For the initial trial flight of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon glider technology, the aim was to gather "data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies and test range performance for long-range atmospheric flight," the Pentagon said. The test mission emphasis was "aerodynamics; navigation, guidance, and control; and thermal protection technologies," the release states.
The glide test vehicle was monitored throughout the test by U.S. military assets on land, at sea, in the sky and in space. Information gathered from the trial will be utilized by the Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command to design and build new hypersonic weapons that employ boost-glide technology (U.S. Defense Department release, Nov. 17).
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan told the Associated Press that it took the test vehicle less than 30 minutes to travel roughly 2,300 miles from Kauai to the Kwajalein Atoll (Associated Press/Google News, Nov. 17).
A previous test of another experimental non-nuclear prompt global strike technology in August was unsuccessful. In that attempt, a different kind of test vehicle -- the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 designed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- made an unplanned splashdown in the Pacific Ocean after the glider experienced a flight anomaly (see GSN, Aug. 18).
Unlike the Thursday test of Advanced Hypersonic Weapon vehicle, the Falcon vehicle was programmed to travel much farther -- 4,100 miles, Wired noted.
The vehicle tested this week employs a conical design that has been around for decades and can travel up to 6,100 miles an hour or at Mach 8 speed.
Not much is known about what happens when an object is flying through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds and the only real way to learn about what takes place is to actually conduct flight launches, the publication noted.
"You have to go fly," former Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright said. "You have to open up the envelope of knowledge.
The Air Force and DARPA researchers are jointly studying the aerodynamics involved in hypersonic flight. The Army test could help the Pentagon determine if a carbon composite coating applied to the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon would enable such vehicles to withstand the intense heat generated by traveling at eight times the speed of sound, according to Wired (Noah Shachtman, Wired, Nov. 17).
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