Hypersonic Cruise Missile:America's New Global Strike Weapon
Hypersonic Cruise Missile: America's New Global Strike Weapon
The mission: Attack anywhere in the world in less than an hour. But is the Pentagon's bold program a critical new weapon for hitting elusive targets, or a good way to set off a nuclear war?
By Noah Shachtman
Diagrams by Kakofonia
Published in the January, 2007 issue.
A tip sets the plan in motion — a whispered warning of a North Korean nuclear launch, or of a shipment of biotoxins bound for a Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon. Word races through the American intelligence network until it reaches U.S. Strategic Command headquarters, the Pentagon and, eventually, the White House. In the Pacific, a nuclear-powered Ohio class submarine surfaces, ready for the president's command to launch.
When the order comes, the sub shoots a 65-ton Trident II ballistic missile into the sky. Within 2 minutes, the missile is traveling at more than 20,000 ft. per second. Up and over the oceans and out of the atmosphere it soars for thousands of miles. At the top of its parabola, hanging in space, the Trident's four warheads separate and begin their screaming descent down toward the planet. Traveling as fast as 13,000 mph, the warheads are filled with scored tungsten rods with twice the strength of steel. Just above the target, the warheads detonate, showering the area with thousands of rods-each one up to 12 times as destructive as a .50-caliber bullet. Anything within 3000 sq. ft. of this whirling, metallic storm is obliterated.
If Pentagon strategists get their way, there will be no place on the planet to hide from such an assault. The plan is part of a program — in slow development since the 1990s, and now quickly coalescing in military circles — called Prompt Global Strike. It will begin with modified Tridents. But eventually, Prompt Global Strike could encompass new generations of aircraft and armaments five times faster than anything in the current American arsenal. One candidate: the X-51 hypersonic cruise missile, which is designed to hit Mach 5 — roughly 3600 mph. The goal, according to the U.S. Strategic Command's deputy commander Lt. Gen. C. Robert Kehler, is "to strike virtually anywhere on the face of the Earth within 60 minutes."
The question is whether such an attack can be deployed without triggering World War III: Those tungsten-armed Tridents look, and fly, exactly like the deadliest weapons in the American nuclear arsenal.[/QUOTE]
This sounds sweet. The B52 has been around forever. We sure have gotten a lot of value from that baby....
The technology is astounding:
[B][I]What the X-51 does is to turn some of the most brutal effects of hypersonic flight to its advantage. Take shock waves, for example. Bursting through the air at a hypersonic rate produces a train of waves, one after the other, which can drag down an aircraft. But the X-51 is a "wave rider," with a sharp nose shaped to make the waves break at precisely the right angle. All of the pressure is directed beneath the missile, lifting it up. The shock waves also compress the air to help fuel the X-51's combustion process. [/I] [/B]
[QUOTE][B][U][SIZE=5]Navy Tests High-Tech Railgun in Virginia[/SIZE][/U][/B]
Thursday , January 18, 2007
DAHLGREN, Va. — Normally, new weaponry tends to make defense more expensive. But the Navy likes to say its new railgun delivers the punch of a missile at bullet prices.
A flashy demonstration of the futuristic and comparatively inexpensive railgun weapon Tuesday at the Naval Surface Warfare Center had Navy brass smiling.
The weapon, which was successfully tested in October at the King George County base, fires nonexplosive projectiles at incredible speeds, using electricity rather than gun powder.
The technology could increase the striking range of U.S. Navy ships more than tenfold by the year 2020.
"It's pretty amazing capability, and it went off without a hitch," said Capt. Joseph McGettigan, commander of NSWC Dahlgren Division.
"The biggest thing is it's real not just something on the drawing board," he said. "It could go to the field right now. We just want to improve it, to make it better."
The railgun works by sending electric current along parallel rails, creating an electromagnetic force so powerful it can fire a metal projectile at tremendous speed.
Because the gun uses electricity and not gunpowder to fire projectiles, it's safer, eliminating the possibility of explosions on ships and vehicles equipped with it. Instead, a powerful pulse generator is used.
The prototype fired at Dahlgren is only an 8-megajoule electromagnetic device, but the one to be used on Navy ships will generate a massive 64 megajoules. Current Navy guns generate about 9 megajoules of muzzle energy.
The railgun's 200 to 250 nautical-mile range will allow Navy ships to strike deep in enemy territory while staying out of reach of hostile forces.
Rear Adm. William E. "Bill" Landay, chief of Naval Research, said Navy railgun progress from the drawing board to reality has been rapid.
"A year ago, this was (just) a good idea we all wanted to pursue," he said.
Elizabeth D'Andrea of the Office of Naval Research said a 32-megajoule lab gun will be delivered to Dahlgren in June.
Charles Garnett, Dahlgren railgun project director, called the projectile fired by the railgun "a supersonic bullet," and the weapon itself is "a very simple device."
He compared the process to charging up a battery on the flash of a digital camera, then pushing the button and "dumping that charge," producing a magnetic field that drives the metal-cased ordnance instead of gun powder.
The projectile fired Tuesday weighed only 3.2 kilograms and had no warhead.
Future railgun ordnance won't be large and heavy, either, but will deliver the punch of a Tomahawk cruise missile because of the immense speed of the projectile at impact.
Garnett compared that force to hitting a target with a Ford Taurus at 380 mph.
"It will take out a building," he said.
Warheads aren't needed because of the massive force of impact.
The range for 5-inch guns now on Navy ships is less than 15 nautical miles, Garnett said. He said the railgun will extend that range to more than 200 nautical miles and strike a target that far away quickly — in 6 minutes. A Tomahawk missile covers that same distance in 8 minutes.
Garnett said specifications call for each railgun to be capable of firing four to six times a day, but he expects to reach a maximum of 10 times per day.
The Navy isn't estimating a price tag at this point, with actual use still about 13 years away. But it does know it will be a comparatively cheap weapon to use.
"A Tomahawk is about a million dollars a shot," McGettigan said.
He said estimates today are that railgun projectiles will cost less than $1,000 each, "but it's going to depend on the electronics."
Projectiles will probably eventually have fins for GPS control and navigation.
To achieve that kind of control and minimize collateral damage, railgun ordnance will require electronic innards that can survive tremendous stress coming out of the muzzle.
"When this thing leaves, it's (under) hundreds of thousands of g's, and the electronics of today won't survive that," he said. "We need to develop something that will survive that many g's."
At the peak of its ballistic trajectory, the projectile will reach an altitude of 500,000 feet, or about 95 miles, actually exiting the Earth's atmosphere.
The railgun will save precious minutes in providing support for U.S. Army and Marine Corps forces on the ground under fire from the enemy.
"The big difference is that with a Tomahawk, planning a mission takes a certain period of time," McGettigan said. "With this, you get GPS coordinates, put that into the system and the response to target is much quicker from call to fire to actual impact."
General Atomics, a San Diego defense contractor, has been working on the pulse power system for the Navy railgun with The Boeing Co., L3 Communications Pulse Sciences, SPARTA Composites, and Jackson Engineering.
General Atomics was awarded a $10 million contract for the project last spring.
The concept is not new. It was born in the 1970s, then promoted two decades ago when President Ronald Reagan proposed the anti-missile "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative.
The SDI rail gun was originally intended to use super high-velocity projectiles to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles[/QUOTE]