Study casts doubt on performance of future DARPA hypersonic missiles

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The United States is currently working on the design of hypersonic nuclear missiles. The first should also be tested in 2022. However, a study maintains doubts about their performance. Certain specialists believe that these missiles will certainly bring certain innovations. However, they will not constitute a revolution, or even an evolution.

Missiles shooting at Mach 5

DARPA, the research and development agency of the US Department of Defense, is preparing some rather frightening new devices. It seeks in fact to design hypersonic nuclear missiles capable of traversing over 1,600 km in less than 30 minutes, as explained Popular mechanics in an article from January 15, 2021. These OpFires missiles should be designed, manufactured and tested from 2022. In addition, DARPA is also working on miniature rockets to embark these famous missiles.

How does it work? From the ground, operators would fire a rocket rising into the air, without leaving the atmosphere, like a ballistic missile. The rocket in question would then pass through an atmosphere at Mach 5 (6 174 km / h), i.e. five times the speed of sound. Once over the target, the machine sends the missile at a similar speed.

Credit: DARPA

Regarding the range of the missile, it would for example be possible to reach countries such as Colombia or Venezuela from the east coast of the United States. In addition, such a speed of execution would undermine any enemy attempt to intercept missile or prepare for impact.

Exaggerated performance?

Faced with DARPA’s promises, some experts are not so confident. This is the case of David Wright, a physicist at MIT who published a study on the question in the journal Science and Global Security January 16, 2021. The interested party considers that these missiles will not represent a revolution nor even an evolution, despite the appearance of certain new features. Its computer simulations show that the intercontinental paths of hypersonic missiles are longer than those of their ballistic equivalents.

Moreover, these same missiles would be detectable by enemy satellites during most of their flight time. Supported by other experts in the field, David Wright believes that the advertised performances are exaggerated. The objective of these ambitious announcements would indeed be to continue to attract funding. In a response relayed by the New York Times, the Pentagon claimed that the physicist’s study was flawed, due to outdated data. In contrast, the Defense Department declined to say more to substantiate its criticism.





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