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The Guardian (London) July 01, 2003

US-based missiles to have global reach: US to build missiles with global reach

By Julian Borger

The Pentagon is planning a new generation of weapons, including huge hypersonic drones and bombs dropped from space, that will allow the US to strike its enemies at lightning speed from its own territory.

Over the next 25 years, the technology would free the US from dependence on forward bases and the cooperation of regional allies, part of the drive towards self-sufficiency spurred by the difficulties of gaining international help in the invasion of Iraq.

The new weapons are being developed under a programme codenamed Falcon (Force Application and Launch from the Continental US). A US defence website has invited bids from contractors to develop the technology and Jane's Defence Weekly reports that the first flight tests are scheduled to take place within three years. The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) website says the programme aims to fulfil "the government's vision of an ultimate prompt global reach capability (circa 2025 and beyond)".

The Falcon technology would "free the US military from reliance on forward basing to enable it to react promptly and decisively to destabilising or threatening actions by hostile countries and terrorist organisations," according to Darpa.

In other words, said John Pike, head of Washington think tank GlobalSecurity.org: "It's about blowing people up on the other side of the planet even if no country on earth will allow us to use their territory."

The ultimate goal would be a "reusable hypersonic cruise vehicle (HCV) . . . capable of taking off from a conventional military runway and striking targets 9,000 nautical miles distant in less than two hours". The unmanned HCV would carry a payload of up to 12,000lb and could ultimately fly at speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound, according to Daniel Goure, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute in Washington.

Propelling a warhead of that size at those speeds poses serious technological challenges and Darpa estimates it will take more than 20 years to develop.

Over the next seven years, the US air force and Darpa will develop a cheaper "global reach" weapons system relying on expendable rocket boosters, known as small launch vehicles (SLV) that would take a warhead into space and drop it over its target.

In US defence jargon, the warhead is known as a Common Aero Vehicle (Cav), an unpowered bomb which would be guided on to its target as it plummeted to earth at high and accelerating velocity.

The Cav could carry 1,000lb of explosives but at those speeds explosives may not be necessary. A simple titanium rod would be able to penetrate 70 feet of solid rock and the shock wave would have enormous destructive force.

Jane's Defence Weekly reported that the first Cav flight demonstration is provisionally scheduled by mid-2006, and the first SLV flight exercise would take place the next year. A test of the two systems combined would be carried out by late 2007.


Copyright 2003, Guardian Newspapers Limited