Trending Technology Alert: Hypersonics
August 5, 2021
As emerging technologies enter the market, it’s imperative to stay up to date on the latest trends the Department of Defense is focused on. Currently making waves across the defense innovation space: hypersonics.
So what is a hypersonic weapon?
Hypersonic is defined as moving at a speed that is exceedingly faster than the speed of sound.
To put it into everyday terms, at hypersonic speeds a person could commute from New York to Los Angeles in less than an hour. With modern hypersonic technology that reaches near Mach 10 speeds, that same commute could be reduced to about 20 minutes.
There are ample benefits of hypersonic weapons to the warfighter. Hypersonic missiles can mitigate threats within minutes, rendering adversary offenses useless. Opposed to reentry vehicles (RVs), which descend through the atmosphere on a predictable and trackable trajectory, hypersonic missiles are maneuverable, making them less predictable and therefore less vulnerable to counterattacks. A Pentagon report once asserted that “While the designed speed of the hypersonic missile is faster than that of sound, its advantage lies in its enhanced maneuverability and smooth flight path, which is much harder to track than traditional missiles.”
How do advanced hypersonics reach Mach 5 to Mach 10 speeds? Unlike a conventional RV, hypersonic missiles travel along the outer edge of the atmosphere, reducing friction both at launch and during reentry. While gliding along the edge of space, specially designed jet engines continue to accelerate until desired hypersonic speeds are met.
Hypersonic missiles are also high-precision military weapons. The DoD demonstrated the accuracy of hypersonic missiles with its testing of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW). The AHW was launched from a missile range facility in Kauai, Hawaii to the Reagan Test Site on the Marshall Islands, successfully striking the intended target that was over 3,700 km away. The implications of this precision provide many advantages to the United States military. With the combination of speed to target, maneuverability, and accuracy, it is now possible to reach difficult, well-defended targets that were previously inaccessible without superfluous collateral.
More Than A Fleeting Trend
Speed, agility, and precision make hypersonic weapons not only highly effective but essential to the strategic mission of the Department of Defense. The United States military is well-aware of the necessity of hypersonic weapons within its fleet. In 2021, Hypersonic-related funding was around $3.2 billion. For the 2022 fiscal year, the new administration has requested $3.8 billion be allocated specifically toward hypersonic research and development.
The advancement of hypersonic technologies is reaching new speeds and making the prioritization of this technology imperative to the warfighter.
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