The US Navy has tested a hypersonic missile that is capable of reaching any target on the planet in under an hour. It could soon be launched from guided-missile submarines.
The test made use of the hypersonic weapons system Prompt Global Strike (PGS). Hypersonic weapons can reach speeds of up to mach 10, or 10 times the speed of sound. This system will be able to deliver precision-guided warheads around the world and is reportedly intended to supplement the nuclear strike capabilities of the US, suggests a report by the US Naval Institute (USNI).
The "boost glide" technology used involves a conventional warhead (non-nuclear) placed on top of a ballistic missile to reach a certain height and speed after which it breaks off from the missile and glides towards its target at speeds of between mach 5 and mach 10.
Unlike ballistic missiles, a boost glide weapon detaches from the rocket before it leaves the atmosphere, notes a Popular Mechanics report. This difference in flight paths reportedly makes it easier to differentiate it on a radar screen from other ballistic missiles that typically carry nuclear warheads.
"I'm very proud to report that at 0300 on Monday night (30 October) SSP flew from Hawaii [Pacific Missile Range Facility] ... the first conventional prompt strike missile for the United States Navy in the form factor that would eventually, could eventually be utilized if leadership chooses to do so in an Ohio-class tube. It's a monumental achievement," said director of the Strategic Systems Program (SSP) Vice Adm Terry Benedict, while speaking at the Naval Submarine League's annual symposium in Arlington.
Submarines that would be used to launch PGS missiles are likely to be four Ohio-class SSBNs (ballistic missile submarine) which have been converted to SSGNs (cruise missile submarine). USNI notes that they will be Virginia-class attack submarines in future.
"The test collected data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies and test-range performance for long-range atmospheric flight. This data will be used by the Department of Defense to anchor ground testing, modeling, and simulation of hypersonic flight vehicle performance and is applicable to a range of possible Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) concepts," Pentagon spokesman Commander Patrick Evans said in a statement.