Weapons for when there is a sense of urgency
Defense Department scientists are set to conduct a second test launch next year of the Falcon HTV-2 experimental superweapon after the first flight this year ended when the autopilot deliberately crashed the unmanned glider into the ocean as a safety measure.It looks like the folks at Darpa and Lockheed-Martin have not lost their creativity. While they are adapting what was originally a nuclear delivery system to conventional weapons it is still and interesting project for what looks like a flying wedge. It is possible that its shape is responsible for the problems with yaw experienced in the first test. The shape leaves little room for control surfaces to make corrections for yaw.
The Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle is designed to skim the top of the atmosphere just below space, and is a key element of the Pentagon's Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) capability — a program to build non-nuclear strategic weapons that can strike conventionally anywhere in the world in less than an hour.
In a statement last week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) revealed for the first time that the first test flight April 20 ended when the autonomous onboard control system — the computer autopilot flying the futuristic superweapon — "commanded flight termination."
"When the onboard system detects [undesirable or unsafe flight] behavior, it forces itself into a controlled roll and pitchover to descend directly into the ocean," DARPA spokesman Eric Mazzacone explained in e-mail to The Washington Times.
DARPA said the board "reviewed and concurred with" a series of remedial measures proposed for a second test flight next year, but some analysts said the results of the first one raise questions about the way the program has been run.
The $308 million Falcon HTV-2 is a suborbital near-space vehicle launched on a Minotaur rocket, a solid-fuel booster built from a decommissioned ballistic missile. On the very edge of the atmosphere, in a procedure called "clamshell payload fairing release," the launch missile deploys the plane, which is then supposed to glide above the Earth at more than 13,000 miles per hour — more than 20 times the speed of sound.
The Pentagon is developing a generation of such hypersonic weapons as a way of being able to strike quickly at urgent threats — such as preparations by terrorists or rogue states to use nuclear weapons.
Falcon, being developed jointly with the Air Force, is just one of a series of conventional long-range strike programs, including another DARPA project called Arclight, and the Air Force's X-51, which successfully test-flew a hypersonic powered flight technology called scramjet — for "supersonic combustion ramjet."
A Congressional Research Service report on prompt global strike stated that the program will develop weapons that can "strike globally and rapidly with joint conventional forces against high-payoff targets" using "attacks in a matter of minutes or hours — as opposed to the days or weeks needed for planning and execution with existing forces."