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calendar   Saturday - December 23, 2006

You Can Run - But You Can’t Hide

Two things struck me about this new “instant death” missile: (1) In it’s final test flight, it hit 7,000 mph (Mach 10) and (2) It only has a range of 600 miles (or so they say). Now, with speeds like that you could conceivably hit a target anywhere on Earth in an hour or less - if you could get enough fuel in it. My guess, based on what I saw of the model specs, is that they could expand the length by about two extra feet (making it 14 feet in length) and you’d have the range to have Osama Bin Laden taken out in less than less than an hour, no matter where you fired it from. Five minutes or less if you fired it from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Quick response? More like instant death. The enemy wouldn’t know what hit them - especially if you loaded this missile up with a nuclear warhead. Now we’re talking real projection of power. No mess, no fuss. Push a button, go get coffee and come back in time to watch the fireworks via satellite. Yep, this ought to scare the bejeezus out of any aggressor. All we’d need then is a leader with the balls to use it. Can we resurrect Teddy Roosevelt now? I think we finally have his “big stick”. Mheh-heh ...

image

With an angled nose, flaps in the middle and an inlet on the underbelly, the device looks like a cross between a spaceship and a futuristic cruise missile. It’s designed to go nearly seven times faster than a Tomahawk — a flight from the Arabian Sea to eastern Afghanistan would take 20 minutes — and destroy targets with its own kinetic energy. Test flights are scheduled for 2008.

The pressure, drag and high temperatures associated with hypersonic speeds (typically, greater than Mach 5, or 3600 mph) used to be considered too extreme for an aircraft to handle in a controlled way. Only ballistic missiles and spacecraft burning rocket fuel, shooting into space and roaring back to Earth, could go that fast.

What the X-51 does is to turn some of the most brutal effects of hypersonic flight to its advantage. Take shock waves, for example. Bursting through the air at a hypersonic rate produces a train of waves, one after the other, which can drag down an aircraft. But the X-51 is a “wave rider,” with a sharp nose shaped to make the waves break at precisely the right angle. All of the pressure is directed beneath the missile, lifting it up. The shock waves also compress the air to help fuel the X-51’s combustion process.

The craft is the same size and shape as a Joint Air-to- Surface Standoff Missile, so it can be attached to a B-52 or fighter jet. It runs on standard JP-7 jet fuel, not on rocket fuel, so it fits in neatly with the military’s existing logistical chain. The X-51 is made from a fairly standard nickel alloy, not from exotic materials. And the advanced engine technology is very real. In 2004, NASA broke speed records while testing its X-43A, a precursor to the X-51 (see “Breakthrough Awards 2005,” Nov. 2005). In a final test flight, the 12-ft.-long aircraft hit 7000 mph — nearly Mach 10. In other words, the X-51 is not just some lab experiment; it’s being designed from the start to deploy. “I’ve got tremendous confidence in it working,” the Air Force’s Mark J. Lewis says.

That doesn’t mean the X-51 will be in competition with a conventional Trident. It will have a range of only 600 nautical miles. And it first needs to be lifted into the air by a plane, then accelerated by a rocket-fueled booster before its hypersonic engine kicks in. But if the 2008 test flight is a success, the X-51 will be the first weapon other than a ballistic missile to fly at hypersonic speeds.

-- Popular Science


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Posted by The Skipper   United States  on 12/23/2006 at 08:23 AM   
Filed Under: • MilitaryScience-Technology •  
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