By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com
May 3, 2010
Updated on 5/03/2010
Within the last couple weeks, British newspapers have published stories on two Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) programs under the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) initiative, who’s purpose is to enable the United States to launch precision conventional weapon strikes anywhere in the world within one hour, just like nuclear attacks can be executed with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The first involves an unmanned “hypersonic glider”/precision guided missile concept prototype called the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) a.k.a. the FALCON (Force Application and Launch from CONtinental United States), while the other, called ArcLight, revives a World War II (WWII) Nazi space bomber aircraft concept, substituting an unmanned missile for a manned aircraft.
The idea behind HTV-2/Falcon is to be able to fire suborbital (albeit at above 350,000 feet, which is still pretty high) precision-guided “hypersonic gliders”/missiles at speeds of Mach 5 (approx. 3,600 mph) to Mach 20 (reported speeds differ, depending on where you read about it) at targets from long range, and utterly obliterate them via kinetic energy before the enemy has time to escape or counter. Falcon’s warhead can either break up into “dozens of lethal fragments” right before impact, saturating an area with multiple smaller hypersonic kinetic projectiles–kind of like a big, hypersonic shotgun blast–or it can stay intact as one big kinetic-energy projectile that surgically removes the target from the physical world, depending on the mission-specific requirements.
The idea behind ArcLight is to be able to launch Boost Glide Re-entry Vehicle (BGRV)-type precision-guided non-nuclear hypersonic missiles carrying 100-lb warheads each out of U.S. naval MK 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) tubes at speeds of at least Mach 12 (approx. 9200 mph). Think of the proposed updated, 21st-century BRGVs as compact, non-nuclear ICBMs that can be fired either one at a time or in fusilades for surgical precision strikes against relatively small targets without blowing up all the little innocent people.
The Nazis devised their Silbervogel (“Silver Bird”) rocket bomber / Amerika Bomber program to terrorize and destroy us (USA), but we’re the good guys, so ArcLight’s purpose is to be as humane as possible without having to irradiate the enemy unneccessarily. ArcLight isn’t our first dabble in Silbervogel-type space-to-ground strike capability. The U.S. air force’s 1968 rocket-launched X-20 Dyna-Soar project used a “Silbervogel-esque flight profile for global strike or surveillance missions,” according to the Register (UK). “The BGRV lifted into space from Vandenberg airforce base in California atop an Atlas F missile rocket and re-entered over the Pacific, eventually splashing down in the vicinity of Wake Island some 3,000 miles away.”
All of this talk (or writing) of precision-guided hypersonic missiles and hypersonic aircraft reminds me of a phone conversation I once had several years ago with one of my retired aerospace industry contacts who used to work for one of the major aerospace companies. He spoke of an SR-91 Aurora-type hypersonic aircraft as if it already existed and was being routinely flown. I had to cut him off and keep him from saying anything more on the phone about it. I jokingly said something to the effect of “Bob” (and his name isn’t Bob), “you mean, hypothetically, IF that plane existed, right Bob [wink, wink]?, because, of course, we don’t have anything like that, yet [wink, wink].” And he replied something to the effect of “Right, yes, David, that’s what I meant [wink, wink], IF, hypothetically, it were operational. That’s what I meant to say [wink, wink].”
Let’s just say we weren’t talking over a secure phone line at the time, and I didn’t want the conversation on that particular topic to go any further at that juncture. Anyway, for an adjunct high-speed/long-range attack and interdiction capability, it might not be a bad idea to arm fleets of Aurora-type hypersonic attack aircraft with AIM-7 Sparrow-based precision-guided long-range air-to-air/air-to-ground hypersonic rocket-assisted ramjet and dual-pulse missiles with tail control so they can be deployed/launched against both air and ground targets anywhere in the world extremely quickly (within one hour or less) and attack them before the enemy even realizes they’re under attack. Both rocket-assisted ramjet AND dual-pulse versions of the AIM-7 were developed many years ago by McDonnell Douglas (since acquired by Boeing) before Raytheon outbid them (our aerospace industry source, it came to around “a couple of dollars per missile”), and thus won the contract with a significantly less capable product.
Anyway, the whole PGS warfare concept fits right in with President Obama’s complete embracing of Rumsfeldian Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)/precision warfare concepts and no-more-nukes-ever-under-any-circumstances policy, but it’s still reportedly giving the Russians and Chinese mini conniption fits (unconfirmed/unverified). Defense Review hopes that’s actually true (the conniption fits part), since it’s important that both the Russians and Chinese remain very nervous about our military capabilities. The minute that stops, watch out. We’ll be in serious trouble, especially with the Chinese.
It’s likely that one of the aspects of DARPA’s modernized BGRV concept that unnerves the Russians and Chinese is our ability to replace BGRV non-nuclear warheads with nuclear ones rather easily. The thought of scores of nuclear-tipped BGRVs being launched out of Mark 41 tubes everywhere around the planet is enough to make anyone nervous, even Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, and they’re both dead (thank God).