America to build super weapons
US-based missiles to cover world
Julian Borger in Washington,
Tuesday July 1, 2003,
Pentagon is planning a new generation of weapons, including huge hypersonic
drones and bombs dropped from space, that will allow the US to strike
its enemies at lightning speed from its own territory.
Over the next 25 years, the new technology would free the US from dependence
on forward bases and thecooperation of regional allies, part of the
drive towards self-sufficiency spurred by the difficulties of gaining
international cooperation for the invasion of Iraq.
The new weapons are being developed under a programme codenamed Falcon
(Force Application and Launch from the Continental US).
A US defence website earlier this month invited bids from contractors
to develop the technology and the current edition of Jane's Defence
Weekly reports that the first flight tests are scheduled to take place
within three years.
According to the website run by the Defence Advanced Research Projects
Agency (Darpa) the programme is aimed at fulfilling "the government's
vision of an ultimate prompt global reach capability (circa 2025 and
The Falcon technology would "free the US military from reliance
on forward basing to enable it to react promptly and decisively to destabilising
or threatening actions by hostile countries and terrorist organisations",
according to the Darpa invitation for bids.
The ultimate goal would be a "reusable hypersonic cruise vehicle
(HCV) ... capable of taking off from a conventional military runway
and striking targets 9,000 nautical miles distant in less than two hours".
The unmanned HCV would carry a payload of up to 12,000 lbs and could
ultimately fly at speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound, according
to Daniel Goure, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute
Propelling a warhead of that size at those speeds poses serious technological
challenges and Darpa estimates it will take more than 20 years to develop.
Over the next seven years, meanwhile, the US air force and Darpa will
develop a cheaper "global reach" weapons system relying on
expendable rocket boosters, known as small launch vehicles (SLV) that
would take a warhead into space and drop it over its target.
In US defence jargon, the warhead is known as a Common Aero Vehicle
(Cav), an unpowered bomb which would be guided on to its target as it
plummeted to earth at high and accelerating velocity.
The Cav could carry 1,000 lbs of explosives but at those speeds explosives
may not be necessary. A simple titanium rod would be able to penetrate
70 feet of solid rock and the shock wave would have enormous destructive
force. It could be used against deeply buried bunkers, the sort of target
the air force is looking for new ways to attack.
Jane's Defence Weekly reported that the first Cav flight demonstration
is provisionally scheduled by mid-2006, and the first SLV flight exercise
would take place the next year. A test of the two systems combined would
be carried out by late 2007.
A prototype demonstrating HCV technology would be tested in 2009.
SLV rockets will also give the air force a cheap and flexible means
to launch military satellites at short notice, within weeks, days or
even hours of a crisis developing.
The SLV-Cav combination, according to the Darpa document, "will
provide a near-term (approximately 2010) perational capability for prompt
global strike from Consus (the continental US) while also enabling future
development of a reusable HCV for the far-term (approximately 2025)".
The range of this weapon is unclear.