Debate Over U.S. Military’s Hypersonic First-Strike Technology

Spate of Hypersonic Vehicle Tests Fuels Global Strike Debate
National Defense Magazine

The military’s reusable space plane, the X-37B, and its classified payload lifted off in April only one day after the maiden flight of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 suborbital glider. It flew nine minutes before operators lost its signal and were forced to abort the mission.

These two vehicles, along with a hypersonic missile that made its first test flight one month later, the X-51 WaveRider, have all been mentioned as means to carry out the “prompt global strike” concept, which calls for the U.S military to deliver a conventional warhead anywhere on the planet in significantly shorter time spans than are currently possible.

Intelligence can be fleeting. The location of a high-value target such as a terrorist leader can be confirmed, but he may move before an air strike is arranged. Or he could be located in a nation that doesn’t allow the Air Force to fly over its territory. U.S. Strategic Command has been looking into ways to deliver bombs on such targets for several years.

The X-37B’s top-secret payload has nonproliferation experts wondering if it is meant to deliver weapons. Air Force leaders won’t say how high up the experimental spacecraft is, how much it costs, or exactly how long it will loiter before returning to Earth. And it definitely won’t reveal what it is carrying in its bay.

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