The Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon went 2,400 miles from Hawaii to its target by the Kwajalein Atoll in the south Pacific. Darpa recently crashed a hypersonic glider had a radical, wedge-like shape: a Mach 20 slice of deep dish pizza, basically. The Army’s vehicle relies on a decades-old, conventionally conical design. It’s designed to fly 6,100 miles per hour, or a mere eight times the speed of sound. In this test it flew just over 5 times the speed of sound and covered the distance in less than 30 minutes
The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon effort could wind up playing a key role in the military’s so-called “Prompt Global Strike” effort to almost instantly whack targets half a world away. A glider like it would be strapped to a missile, and sent hurtling at rogue state’s nuclear silo or a terrorist’s biological weapon cache before it’s too late.
At first, the Prompt Global Strike involved retrofitting nuclear missiles with conventional warheads; the problem was, the new weapon could’ve easily been mistaken for a doomsday one. Which meant a Prompt Global Strike could’ve invited a nuclear retaliation.
Darpa and the Air Force worked on understanding the aerodynamics of hypersonic flight — that’s one of the reasons behind the ill-fated Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle tests. Meanwhile, the Army concentrated on controlling the hypersonic glider, and on thermal management. Moving through the air a Mach 8 generates a huge amount of heat. The military was keen to see if the carbon composite coating on the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon could take it. The last thing the Pentagon wants is for its Prompt Global Strike weapon to burn up before hitting its target.
The Pentagon focused on developing superfast weapons that would mostly scream through the air, instead of drop from space like a nuclear warhead. Those hypersonic gliders may cut down on the geopolitical difficulties, but introduced all sorts of technical ones
Judging from yesterday’s test, it looks like the carbon composite held up. And so the plan to take out enemies from continents away just got a little easier to pull off.