On Thursday, the U.S. Army completed a successful test of an Advanced Hypersonic Weapon soaring at eight times the speed of sound. The completion perhaps restoring a little bit of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) confidence since it's last test run of the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 crashed into the Pacific Ocean this past August.
Today's test builds upon lessons learned from the two earlier tests of Falcon HTV-2 and brings the military one step closer to having the capability to hit a target anywhere on Earth within an hour, according to Wired's Danger Room.
Wired notes that this test was considerably easier than the one conducted with Falcon HTV-2 a few months ago though:
Darpa’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 — the one that splashed unsuccessfully in the Pacific — was supposed to fly 4,100 miles. The Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon went about 60 percent as far, 2,400 miles from Hawaii to its target by the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific. Darpa’s hypersonic glider had a radical, wedge-like shape: a Mach 20 slice of deep dish pizza, basically. The Army’s vehicle relies on a decades-old, conventionally conical design. It’s designed to fly 6,100 miles per hour, or a mere eight times the speed of sound.
According to Fox News, this prototype flies flat rather than soaring upward and then coming back down.
Wired reports that the weapon is part of the Prompt Global Strike project that focuses on developing hypersonic weapons, which includes anything that goes five times faster than the speed of sound, giving military the ability to strike targets anywhere in the world in less than one hour:
Those hypersonic gliders may cut down on the geopolitical difficulties, but introduced all sorts of technical ones. We don’t know much about the fluid dynamics involved when something shoots through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. And there really aren’t any wind tunnels capable of replicating those often-strange interactions.
“You have to go fly,” says retired Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, who helped lead the Prompt Global Strike push as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as head of U.S. Strategic Command. “You have to open up the envelope of knowledge.”
In addition to the testing of this Advanced Hypersonic Weapon and Falcon HTV-2 in recent months, Fox News also notes the semi-successful test in June of the Air Force's X-1A Waverider. It reached Mach 5 speeds before "it failed to switch over to its main fuel source."