Army’s Super Secret Hypersonic Weapon Undergoes Testing
November 18, 2011

Army’s Super Secret Hypersonic Weapon Undergoes Testing

The US Army conducted its first flight test of its new Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW), launching the high-tech bomb from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai on Thursday.

After launch, the rocket glided through the upper atmosphere over the Pacific “at hypersonic speed” before reaching its target on the Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands, according to a statement made by the Pentagon.

The rocket made the trip from Kauai to Kwajalein -- some 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii -- in less than half an hour,  said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan. The Pentagon would not give details on how fast the vehicle went.

The successful flight may now give the military the ability to strike targets anywhere in the world in less than one hour.

This new hypersonic weapon concept is quite unlike the bombs currently in use. The AHW keeps a relatively flat trajectory within the atmosphere, rather than soaring up toward space and then coming back down like a ballistic missile.

Hypersonic speed is defined as being at least Mach 5 -- five times the speed of sound (3,805 mph at sea level).

Pentagon officials kept close surveillance on the flight from ground, sea, air, and even space. The test was completed to gather data on “aerodynamics, navigation, guidance and control, and thermal protection technologies,” said Lt. Col. Morgan.

The Pentagon has invested nearly $240 million in its Global Strike program this year, including $69 million for this flying bomb test, said the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in a report. The successful test came a little more than three months after the Pentagon´s failed test flight of its hypersonic glider HTV-2.

The Army´s success was built upon the lessons learned from the two previous test flights (April 2010 and August 2011) carried out by the Pentagon´s research unit: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The successful test may help the Air Force and DARPA in the development of their systems.

DARPA´s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) reached Mach 20 on its last flight before experiencing problems and crashing. And the Air Force has tested its X-15A Waverider vehicle, most recently on June 13. During that test, the Waverider reached speeds of Mach 5 before it failed to switch over to its main fuel source.

The CRS report said the AHW would be able to maneuver to avoid flying over third party nations as it approached its target. The weapon would use a precision guidance system to home in on the target, it said.

The race to get these new high-tech hypersonic vehicle projects going resembles the early days when the Air Force and Army competed to get their rockets and missile off the ground. Any successes found in the hypersonic realm would likely benefit the US military´s unified goal for a “Conventional Prompt Global Strike” weapon designed to speedily attack targets around the world.


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