US Army tests advanced hypersonic weapon over Pacific

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The US Army has successfully conducted the first test of its Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW), designed to fly at several times the speed of sound.

The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, last Thursday. The AHW successfully reached its target about 2 300 miles away at the Reagan Test Site, U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It completed the journey in just 20 minutes.

The AHW is a first-of-its-kind glide vehicle, designed to fly within the earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speed and long range. It can carry a payload of up to 5 500 kg at more than five times the speed of sound. The flight test was conducted by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Forces Strategic Command.

The objective of the test was to collect data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies and test range performance for long-range atmospheric flight, officials said. They said mission emphasis was on aerodynamics; navigation, guidance, and control; and thermal protection technologies.

A three-stage booster system (comprising a 34 foot, 36 000 lb rocket) 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 Kwajailein.

Space, air, sea, and ground platforms collected vehicle performance data during all phases of flight, officials said. They said the data collected will be used by the Department of Defense to model and develop future hypersonic boost-glide capabilities.

The Department of Defense is using the AHW to develop and demonstrate technologies for Conventional Prompt Global Strike. As part of the CPGS effort, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency conducted boost-glide flight tests in April 2010 and August 2011. The results of those tests were used in planning this week’s Army AHW flight test, officials said.

The Pentagon has invested US$239.9 million in the Global Strike program this year, including US$69 million for the AHW, AFP reports. A prompt global strike capability would enable the Pentagon to hit targets worldwide within an hour with conventional or nuclear warheads.

The last time the Pentagon test-fired a hypersonic missile, in August, it ended in failure. On August 11, the Falcon HTV-2 was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a rocket and successfully separated from the launch vehicle. The arrowhead-shaped aircraft was expected to separate from the rocket near the peak of its ascent and glide back to earth, reaching hypersonic speed before rolling and plunging into the Pacific. About 26 minutes after launch, DARPA tweeted that its monitoring stations had lost contact with the glider.



The loss of communications in the final stages of the test flight was a failure for the agency. During the first flight test in April, researchers lost contact with the vehicle about nine minutes into the flight.