Nov. 17, 2011 — -- Should President Obama want to strike any target in the world from the homeland in just a couple hours, that capability could soon be at his fingertips thanks to a top secret weapon successfully tested today, the Army said.
The Army's own version of a hypersonic, long-range weapon system blasted off from the Pentagon's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, early Thursday morning and – in less than half an hour -- reached its destination approximately 2,500 miles away at Kwajalein Atoll. The Army would not say exactly how fast the weapon can go, but does describe it as a hypersonic weapon, meaning it reaches speeds of at least five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5.
It was the first ever test for the Army's Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW), part of a Conventional Prompt Global Strike capability in development by the military. The AHW is described by the Department of Defense as a "first-of-its-kind glide vehicle" that uses a three-stage booster system to launch the glider slicing through the air.
"The objective of the test [today was] to collect data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies and test range performance for long-range atmospheric flight," the Department of Defense said in a statement. "Mission emphasis is aerodynamics; navigation, guidance, and control; and thermal protection technologies."
A Defense spokesperson would not say how similar the Army's AHW program is to the hypersonic jet tested -- and momentarily lost -- by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in August. That jet was designed to travel at a blistering Mach 20, fast enough to travel from Los Angeles and New York in just 12 minutes.
According to an environmental report from June describing the test flight for the Army's AHW, the weapon is meant to "provide the President , Secretary of Defense, and Combatant Command with the ability to quickly destroy, delay, or disrupt key enemy targets within a few hours."
The Defense spokesperson said that due to the project's sensitivity, no images of the weapon will be made public, but the environmental report, first referenced by the DefenseTech blog, shows what appears to be a computer-generated rendering of the craft. Based on that image, the design appears much different from DARPA's version -- more in the shape of a cone with stabilizing fins, rather than the arrow-head style of the DARPA project.
The Department of Defense said that the results from DARPA's failed test in August, along with a previous test in April 2010, were used in the planning for today's flight.