Army Successfully Tests Hypersonic Weapon Design

Well, the Army made it happen, it successfully tested its own hypersonic weapon prototype that could lead to a class of conventionally-armed missiles capable of striking any target on Earth in less than two hours.

The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon was launched from Hawaii this morning at 6:30 Eastern time and flew roughly 2,400  miles to Kwajelien atoll. No word yet on how fast the AHW glide vehicle, (the part that would carry a weapon), powered by a three-stage booster rocket, made the journey. The Pentagon says it reached hypersonic speeds; that means it had to be flying at more than Mach 5 at some point.

The AHW stayed well within the Earth’s atmosphere, followng a “non-ballistic” trajectory as it sped toward its target. Why is that detail important? Here’s an excerpt from an interview I did with Boeing officials working on a similar project in September:

Basically, a ground-launched PGS weapon would cut a much lower and flatter path through the air than a nuclear-armed ICBM, something that would instantly show other nations that this isn’t preemptive nuclear strike.

“This is a depressed trajectory and if your were to track [the PGS’] ballistic profile” it’s much lower than a regular ICBM, said Boeing’s Rick Hartle during a briefing on Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s annual conference in National Harbor, Md.

Today’s test was meant to “collect data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies and test range performance for long-range atmospheric flight. Mission emphasis is aerodynamics; navigation, guidance, and control; and thermal protection technologies,” reads a Pentagon press release on the flight.

Remember that the Air Force has been working on it’s own versions of this technology; experimenting with scramjet tech and a system that uses former Peacekeeper ICBM’s to launch a glide vehicle to hypersonic speeds. The Army’s less ambitious effort sounds like it is off to a better start, so far anyway.

Click through the jump to read the  press release and see a rough sketch of how a PGS weapon would fly to avoid being confused for an ICBM.

Here’s the Pentagon’s announcement of the flight:

 Today the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command conducted the first test flight of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) concept.  At 6:30 a.m. EST (1:30 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian Time), a first-of-its-kind glide vehicle, designed to fly within the earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speed and long range, was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii to the Reagan Test Site, U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll.

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

A three-stage booster system 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 the Reagan Test Site.  Space, air, sea, and ground platforms collected vehicle performance data during all phases of flight.  The data collected will be used by the Department of Defense to model and develop future hypersonic boost-glide capabilities.

The AHW program is managed and executed by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command program office in Huntsville, Ala.  The booster system and glide vehicle were developed by Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, N.M. and the thermal protection system by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, Huntsville, Ala.

The Department of Defense is using AHW to develop and demonstrate technologies for Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS). As part of the CPGS effort, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency conducted boost-glide flight tests in April 2010 and August 2011, results from which were used in planning the AHW flight test.

Here’s a drawing Hartle did for me (hey, it gets the job done) showing the PGS’ trajectory versus a nuclear missile. The nuke is the line that curves high up what should be the Y-axis while the PGS is the squiggly line that stays close to the X-axis.


  • IKnowIT

    This is cool, but the idea that a flat trajectory won’t alarm people assumes they think a PGS vehicle could NEVER carry a nuke. Kind of stupid logic, no?

    • Jeff

      It has to do more with the ideal trajectory for delivering a nuke. If you put a nuke on this type of system, ignoring the developement that would have to go into fitting it… its delivery would be less than ideal and would require some difficult final stage maneuvering.

      Second, we have stealth cruise missiles that can carry a nuclear payload, and despite the increadible easy with which such a weapon could be carried on a B2, the only thing keeping us from doing that is a treaty that says no stealth weapon on stealth aircraft. This to me seems more open to abuse than a easily detected and distinguished special delivery system, that requires the design a new payload.

  • Benjamin

    If we put a nuke on board this weapon it would be very good at doing preemptive nuclear strikes. It would both be very hard to detect and will have significant range.

  • Morty

    We are trying to get ride of the nuclear weapons since the cold war

  • jamesb

    WTF is the ARMY doing this?

    And this whole concept IS scary….
    No time to react?
    What happens when the crazies get this stuff?

  • Tim

    Very cool! Just tell the bad guys that the Army is only testing a new kind of MRLS with special rocket to “enhance” trajectory and distances.

  • chaos0xomega

    So are the AF and Army going to be fighting it out over who gets control of the PGS program now or something?

    Also, this uses a rocket boost system vs. the X-51s scramjet system, yes? I imagine the X-51 could reach higher speeds, but whats the difference in cost between the two concepts?

    • Matt

      This is ground launched (i think) and X-51 is launched from a B-52

    • chaos0xomega

      Yeah PGS =/= ICBM’s. I understand full well the organizaton of America’s military forces, which is why I find it alarming that the army is developing a land based hypersonic vehicle.

      As for X-51 being launched from a B-52, I was under the impression that it was just until they could develop a mechanism for ground launch.

      • Pershing, Davy Crocket were Army systems. Nike was an Army system. THEAD, Patriot are Army systems. ATACMs is an Army system.

        Before stressing out maybe questions on its use and range might be good ones.

        Its ridiculous turf protection by the Air Force that keeps the Army from having even more responsive/effective CAS. Heck, we just went through this when the Air Force tried to bogart UAVs.

  • IronV

    Why is it we have to dance around the ballistic missile delivery and China doesn’t with its alleged “carrier killer?”

  • Musson1

    Who do you have to kill in 2 hours – that you can’t wait 5 hours to see dead?

  • dan little wng

    This is all well and good but where is the money coming from ? Why isn’t the money that is being used to test and develop this weapon being used to train and train and equip soldiers? -___-

  • IKnowIT

    “Who do you have to kill in 2 hours – that you can’t wait 5 hours to see dead? ”

    Obviously this is meant for hard targets or large moving ones- not personell

  • AnimalFarm

    AWESOME! Crazies beware!

  • Nick

    So what would this do the hull of a vessel, say a chinese carrier?

  • C-Low

    This weapon will enhance and multiple our ability in allot of today’s scenarios.

    China- Once deployed to the subs, ships, and some ground spotting around Asia will put a pretty good dent in the survive-ability of the Chicom denial systems.

    First Day- Moving at this speed would be a great door kicker and backing up those deep eyes on target when HVT are spotted

    Rogues- Iran, N Korea, and others except for few are still using liquid fueled BM systems. When our eyes in the sky report missile fueling this tool in the box would allow preemptive strike prior to launch eliminating or cutting down the number BMD will have to deal with.

    I think Russia and China probably will need a underwear check about now. Russia especially. Like it or not if deployed in numbers which it will because its benefits are just not there if not, it will make a conventional preemptive strike on the Russia’s last nukes possible.

    Added to our BMD and other conventional strike abilities this will make a roll with the US, even for the big boys nothing to be desired or risked.

    Having these kind of overmatch abilities is why since after WW2 and the US rise there has not been any major state heavy wars, just brush fires and skirmishes.

    • fromage

      I mean come on. At least get it proofread.

    • dddd

      I agree with what you are saying, but I do not think it is necessarily good that the ability to strike Russia’s nukes preemptively is a good thing. It is very destabilizing. It adds incentive for them to launch before we could make such an attack.

  • fromage

    It can? The safest? With what warhead? I know it’s the internet and all, but people around here could stand to qualify their statements a lil better.

  • txkboy

    Apparently, budget cuts aren’t part of R&D…lol.

  • No Quarter

    Sure it could carry a nuke What do you think the cruse missle was intended to carry Yes thats right Nukes right into downtown Moscow or Kiev or whatever city


    Alright boys, Ivan and Mao are going down.

  • When you need to find $1.2trillion in defence budget cuts, is having two seperate hypersonic missile programmes run by two seperate services such a good idea? Or perhaps the Navy and Marines should piss a few billion into another one.

    I don’t see how the flat trajectory would reasure countries with itchy nuclear trigger fingers. I would have thought that any nation that can detect the launch of an ICBM could track the ballistic arc and know pretty quickly who the intended target was. Surely a PGS missile with the launch signature of a nuke but quickly going into a flat hypersonic sprint could be going anywhere.

  • IKnowIT

    Question with respect to the ICBM/Cruise missile conversation before- Is this thing guided at all? Can it make any mid-course corrections? I am thinking the answer is “no”?

  • MindMedic

    Yes! There are many issues we can worry about re: this story but try to remember how many military developments resulted in civilian tech growth. To me, nukes are not the issue; the real issue is the ongoing gutting of our military while pushing social programs that cause more damage than they fix. As to the inter-service rivalries, I am split. It sounds like a waste of money but it may inspire additional breakthroughs that are benficial to America’s abilty to maintain our military’s ability to react to world wide issues.

  • EJ257

    US Army: Hah, we’ve succeeded where the USAF has failed!
    USAF: Yeah yeah hurray.
    Congress: Thank you for your services boys and girls, but we have to cut the program as part of our deficit reduction.

  • ayelvington

    Army and Air Force would save the taxpayers a lot of money if they kept their dueling to the football field.


    TWe should nickname this the “party crasher”…guarenteed to F*** up Any ones party, and like a good pary crasher ALWAYS sneaks in unsee ultil it is to late….SUPRISE

  • Von Brown

    To the editor:

    Those “high arc” profiles allegedly flown by I.C.B.M.s, and which you showed us in the drawing from Boeing’s Rick Hartle, denote a surprising mistake, ignorance and amateurishness.

    I.C.B.M.s climb almost vertically (to escape gravity in the shortest route), that’s true. Once they’re high above the atmosphere they turn towards their targets, but then they travel ~ one quarter around the World and PARALLEL to it, like satellites do. (For “some” reason, I.C.B.M.s are routinely spent to launch satellites into very durable orbits, too, the only difference being the nature of the payload) Once the “bus” ( = the missile’s nose cone / warhead) overflies enemy territory, he tilts downwards and releases one missile cone after the other, which then dive relatively vertically onto their targets (when they’re not maneuverable).

    So, an I.C.B.M.’s correct flight path looks more like an elongated rectangle than like that narrow, steep ellipse in the drawing. In good honesty, an I.C.B.M.’s flight path looks exactly like the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon’s flight path, only much taller.


    Von Brown

  • robertro2


  • Infidel4LIFE

    Gamechanger. WOW.

  • Infidel4LIFE

    You a f-ing comedian? Real funny. How about a bayonet shoved up ur azz?

  • Eric S. Obispo

    The U.S. Army has been the pioneer of missiles including the atomic bombs that were dropped in Japan in world war II. When I was stationed in Darmstadt, W. Germany at that time, Army’s 32nd Air Defense Command had the anti-missile-missile that could strike an incoming missile down. It did not really prove itself worthy until Dessert Storm happened. The Patriot Missile is where all of these systems have originated from, including what the navy and the airforce have.

  • A. C.

    First, for speed and range, I don’t see how this beats the old Fractional Orbiting Bomb System (FOBS – google it) except perhaps you could get by with a smaller booster, which might make it much more portable – as compared to a concrete lined hole in the ground. I’m not sure it really would beat a ballistic missile submarine.

    I am also skeptical of the claim that this would be harder to track than an ICBM. An infrared tracking satellite could detect the heat track pretty well since the air around the vehicle, and the vehicle skin are heated to several thousand degrees at mach 5+. Only if your enemy is restricted to ground-based radars would it, perhaps, be harder to detect.

    It’s all the other things that perhaps could be done with this system that might make it interesting. Perhaps release a smaller, slower drone over a new hot spot or suddenly interesting or critical location where you have no reconnaissance resources and you need longer time over the target than a spy satellite provides.

  • NotuMe

    Scramjet, when it positively, absolutely has to be dead anywhere in the world in two hours or less!

  • So an Army that is constantly complaining about manpower is cutting 50K troops out. An Army is flying an Hypersonic attack weapon? What is the Air Force doing, testing handheld weapons? What is going on in DARPA? Who’s in charge and why arn’t research projjects in line with the services issions and overall needs? Hey I am all for weapons research but lets get the right flks doing it and stop duplication.

    When the Army stops cring about repeated deployments yet can reduce manpower by 50K heads, I question the Secretary of the Army’s intelligence. We need a Secretary of Defense that knows the military and realizes the roles of the respective services. The Army has a bigger airpower ability than the Air Force… What the hell is going on?



  • chauvinistic frog

    Oh oh…

    Scrap all Advanced Hypersonic Weapon prototypes before wasting ONE MORE CENT on them, quick: I completely forgot that Russian S-400 anti-aircraft / anti-missile missiles fly faster than U.S. American A.H.W.s (and nevertheless Stalin is nearly finishing his first S-500s, which intercept anything at over Mach 20! ALL-TERRAIN-MOBILE S-500s, ON TOP OF THAT !!! And shall we compare the treaty limitations, tactical limitations, prices, procurement numbers and international proliferation etc. of these systems? Or will you really just build I.C.B.M.s now to launch them against Talibans?)

    Put a clean sheet on your drawing boards. Start with colour pencils. Or just rent a video for inspiration. Where you want to go in Space, the Russians already ran once around the block: They suffer from chronic Sputnikitis.

  • Shootist

    This is some great technology but I predict an interservice fight over who controls it, Army or USAF.

  • Isaiah

    Ops, sorry I was looking for the ploughshares dept… But since Im here, Im sure the Russians,et al, will be blinded to the Idea of this being a nuc. “First strike Wepon” since we encripted it in that flat flight mumbo gumbo… I guess the MIC Bros had children, no not the Irish the Mil. Ind. Cmplx. bastards. Its warming to know that my grandsons will have op to be fodder in the new age……….

  • Stan V.

    Congratulations to the ARMY. We need this great new technology to make the enemy think twice about the USA being a sissy. Stan the Man.

  • akaa

    cool ! when we are using it on the North Korean fatso?

  • james

    I think if the tecknolage that is ont there is used in the corect maner i my selth with ateam would and could bild and disine a craft that fare exseeds nassas capability I’m no1 specile n may not be able to spell corectly but look me up am out there just like the ansers to all your Questions you so called sintists argu about wot to put or use siplafiy things a hell of a lot n u will b suprised as I am working on a project that will propell our armed forces into a new age of tecnolage bleve me if u will but i intend to have my name none in the history books wot r u doin apart froom talkin about it all the time lol eat my metels c c c c c c c ya??????????

    • blight_

      Send western union to Lagos….

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  • WhiteHawk

    For all the bluster, what I’m hearing is “this thing can carry a nuclear warhead quickly to anywhere in the world, and the target won’t know it’s nuclear until it’s too late”…

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  • Russia already coeecvnd a missile which go at mach6+ 25 years ago but the missile was never constructed due to the fall of USSR Russia has 25 years of advance get your facts