US Army tests AHW (Advanced Hypersonic Weapon) over the Pacific

Description :

On 17 November 2011, the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command conducted the first test flight of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) concept, a new weapon capable of traveling five times the speed of sound. 

At 6:30 a.m. EST (1:30 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian Time) the test vehicle was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii to the Reagan Test Site, US Army Kwajalein Atoll. The objective of the test was to collect data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies and test range performance for long-range atmospheric flight. Mission emphasis was on aerodynamics; navigation, guidance, and control; and thermal protection technologies.

During the 17 November 2011 test, a 3-stage booster system launched the AHW glide vehicle and successfully deployed it on the desired flight trajectory. The vehicle flew a non-ballistic glide trajectory at hypersonic speed to the planned impact location at the Reagan Test Site. Space, air, sea, and ground platforms collected vehicle performance data during all phases of flight. The data collected was to be used by the Department of Defense to model and develop future hypersonic boost-glide capabilities.

Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) is to provide a transformational capability on the order of 6,000 KM [3200 NM] range with 35 minute time-of-flight and < 10 meter accuracy. U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (SMDC/ARSTRAT) is working on the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon-Technology Demonstration with the US Air Force Space and Missile Center. The two services are deliberating how certain AHW technologies might fit into the Air Force's Prompt Global Strike program, which aims to field a next-generation weapon capable of striking fleeting targets around the globe faster than today's munitions.

The Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review Report of 2006 highlights the need for ''prompt and high-volume global strike'' capability to deter aggression and provide a broader range of conventional options to the President, if deterrence fails. In March 2006, the Commander, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), testified before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces of the Committee on Armed Services that in situations where U.S. general purpose forces are not in a position to respond rapidly to dangerous threats to the United States, the President may require USSTRATCOM to interdict such fleeting targets at global range. The Department of Defense is conducting an analysis of alternatives for prompt global strike capabilities in the near, mid, and long term.

One alternative option for prompt, conventional long-range strike is to employ advanced technologies such as hypersonic vehicles that can travel thousands of miles in the upper atmosphere in under 60 minutes. The Senate Armed Services Committee recommended an increase of $20.0 million in PE 63308A to support a flight test demonstration program for the AHW. The FY2007 budget request included $11.8 million in PE 63308A, for Army Missile Defense Systems Integration, but included no funding for Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) risk reduction efforts. 

The committee was aware that hypersonic research is being conducted throughout the Department for efforts that go beyond prompt global strike. The committee recommended that the Secretary of Defense establish a joint technology office to coordinate, integrate, and manage hypersonic research. Activities related to the development of the AHW should be consistent with the approach adopted by this new joint technology office for hypersonic development so that the AHW could be considered by the Department as a candidate for a joint technology capability demonstration.

As of 2006 Defense Department hypersonics research programs were not integrated or even coordinated, either internally or with NASA efforts, especially since the cancellation of the X-43A project. Some Navy hypersonics research programs, conducted with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), were completed in fiscal year 2007, yet a transition path had not been identified. Further, it was not clear how the Navy RATTLRS program complemented parallel approaches to high-speed strike missions.

DARPA planned to initiate a new hypersonics effort in fiscal year 2007 for a ''transatmospheric'' vehicle to ''further mature, integrate and flight demonstrate propulsion technologies developed by the high speed reusable demonstration and Falcon programs. DARPA programs also lacked a clear transition path or tangible service transition support. Finally, the Air Force plans to conduct a first-flight demonstration of the X-51A Scramjet in fiscal year 2009, yet the Office of the Air Force Director of Test and Evaluation (T&E), which conducts annual surveys on future T&E requirements, indicates that no program office has reported a need for hypersonics testing facilities. The Army has indicated similar concern with insufficient links between hypersonics research efforts and service requirements.

Hypersonic technologies have the potential to enable the development of new military capabilities in time of a critical strike, as demonstrated by the Air Force X-51 program.

The high speed / hypersonic cruise missile can support various levels of capability across the reach and responsiveness trade space. This trade space may be organized into supersonic and hypersonic speed regimes and medium to long range. The high-speed / hypersonic missile would be launched at subsonic speeds and at altitudes between 30,000 and 40,000 ft. Targeting information would be provided to the launch aircraft where the data would be uploaded to the weapon. 

After launch, the missile will accelerate to cruise conditions shown above. In-flight guidance would rely upon integrated GPS/INS and possibly passive sensing. For both missiles, descent would occur rapidly into the target area for either a direct or a submunition attack. If using a submunition payload, the missile would decelerate to transonic or subsonic speeds prior to autonomous submunition deployment. If using a direct attack (unitary warhead) payload, the missile would use GPS and/or an active terminal sensing, allowing for impact velocities ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 feet per second.

The Hypersonic Cruise Missile is a full capability weapon system demonstration including air launched weapon with Mach 3-6+ cruise up to 1000nm, on-board sensor employment for guidance and target acquisition, and terminal engagement of fixed targets. Includes additional ground test series of tailored lethality and penetrating warheads. This demonstration will build on the flight test experience of RATTLRS, HyFly, and X-51A and integrate other munition, connectivity, and sensor technologies into a weaponized flight demonstration.

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*by andreascy*