The good old days of threatening the world with a jillion nuclear ICBMs are over. Drones work great, but are relatively sluggish. So what if we need to blow something up in a hurry? The US Army's got a new toy.
The Pentagon announced a rare successful weapons test today, claiming its Advanced Hypersonic Weapon — basically a rocket plane with a warhead strapped to it — made a successful 3860km trip over the ocean. No ordnance was packed in this time, just sensors to make sure the thing can fly straight. But the Army managed to demonstrate it can fling this thing at speeds over the sound barrier — 1236km/h.
Interestingly, and perhaps most importantly, as DefenseTech points out, the AHW flew a "a non-ballistic glide trajectory". That's Pentagonese for very low. Most nukes shoot high into the atmosphere, and then arc back down onto their unlucky target. But by flying extremely fast and incredibly close, the AHW will not only not trigger Oh shit, a nuclear war is about to start alarms across the globe, but will evade enemy detection. The idea, according to an environmental impact report from this summer, is to "provide the President with the ability to promptly engage targets at strategic range without using nuclear weapons" by using a "kinetic warhead" instead of a nuke. Essentially, the AHW can be launched quickly, moving five miles every second, and destroy its target using the sheer force of its impact. Which is considerable, given that it weighs thousands of pounds and is moving past Mach 5. [Pentagon via DefenseTech]