Monday, January 13, 2014

Chicoms successfully fly a hyper-sonic test aircraft.

A few years ago the science news was full of Mach 5+ aircraft, and New York-to-Tokyo sub-orbitals that got you there in two hours. Things like "scramjet" and "external combustion engine" were all over Popular Mechanics. Then it all kind of died off and everybody was talking about Kim Kardashian's ... assets.

Picture this with a big red star on the front. Flying at Los Angeles.

Well, the Chicoms just flew a hypersonic test vehicle kids. And didn't tell anybody either.

The test of the new hypersonic glide vehicle was carried out Jan. 9 and the experimental weapon is being dubbed the WU-14 by the Pentagon, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The hypersonic vehicle represents a major step forward in China's secretive strategic nuclear and conventional military and missile programs.
The new hypersonic vehicle was detected traveling at extremely high speeds during the flight test over China, said officials who discussed some details of the test.
The hypersonic craft appears designed to be launched atop one of China's intercontinental ballistic missiles, and then glides and maneuvers at speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound from near space en route to its target, the officials said.
A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the test but declined to provide details.
"We routinely monitor foreign defense activities and we are aware of this test," Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool, the spokesman, told the Washington Free Beacon.

Its nice that the Americans are paying attention, I guess.

Anyway, here's an example of why we care about this.
Rick Fisher, another China military affairs expert, said the Chinese hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) test represents a significant military advance for Beijing.
"The beauty of the HGV is that it can perform hypersonic precision strikes while maintaining a relatively low altitude and flat trajectory, making it far less vulnerable to missile defenses," said Fisher, an analyst at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
Fisher said arms control advocates often view the U.S. Prompt Global Strike and similar Chinese hypersonic weapons as part of an isolated competition caused by misperceptions that can be resolved through arms talks.
"I'm not against that, but the lessons of recent history are pretty stark: a paranoid Communist dictatorship is going to seek maximum power to sustain its position no matter how friendly you try to treat it," Fisher said.

Um, yeah.

Also of considerable concern, the Chicoms are learning how to develop new weapon technology faster. Oh, by the way. Know who else is building this hypersonic technology? Russia and India.

Some numbers.

Just so we all know what "hypersonic" means and why the Chicoms want some, here's the basic numbers. From wikipedia:

The Kármán line, at 100 km (62 mi), or 1.57% of the Earth's radius, is often used as the border between the atmosphere and outer space. Atmospheric effects become noticeable during atmospheric reentry of spacecraft at an altitude of around 120 km (75 mi).

For an aircraft leaving the Earth, the Karman Line is the important benchmark. 62 miles high is where you lose aerodynamic control and become a rocket. At 62 miles up, you can pour on the speed and go pretty much as fast as you want, reaching orbital speeds of 17,450 mph if desired. That's what the Space Shuttle does. 17,450 miles per hour is about Mach 23, and gets you a low-Earth orbit of about 125 miles up.

The missile being discussed here does between Mach 5 and Mach 10. Mach 1 is ~720 mph, so between 3600 and 7200 mph. Not immediately obvious is the fact that at Mach 5, 3600mph, a missile will cross those 62 miles from the Karman Line to the surface in one (1.0) minute. Because 3600 mph is 60 miles per minute, right? Otherwise known as one mile per second. Mach 10 is two miles per second.

By contrast the current world-record holder for speed is the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, at 2,193.2 mph or Mach 3.3. There was never a surface launched missile that could shoot down the Blackbird during its entire service life. Think about how the Americans are going to shoot down something that can go three times as fast as the Blackbird. With a nuke on it. They're going to need the mother of all laser guns, aren't they? And it will need to be in orbit, to catch these things as they launch from China.

China has already demonstrated their anti-satellite technology by blowing up one of their own satellites in 2007. That experiment eliminated an entire area of Earth orbit for use by spacecraft due to flying shrapnel. Its still out there, flying at orbital speed. Rifle bullets go about 1,700 miles an hour, about Mach 2.2  The Chicoms scattered fifty million little chunks of metal going 17,450 miles an hour, Mach 23. One of 'em hits your windshield its going to be a bad day.

The Phantom

Update: Yes, I fixed the minute/second confusion. D'oh.

No comments: