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Anywhere in the world in 60 minutes
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A hypersonic cruise missile? Time for a little "gee whiz" stuff:
Within 2 minutes, the missile is traveling at more than 20,000 ft. per second. Up and over the oceans and out of the atmosphere it soars for thousands of miles. At the top of its parabola, hanging in space, the Trident's four warheads separate and begin their screaming descent down toward the planet. Traveling as fast as 13,000 mph, the warheads are filled with scored tungsten rods with twice the strength of steel. Just above the target, the warheads detonate, showering the area with thousands of rods-each one up to 12 times as destructive as a .50-caliber bullet. Anything within 3000 sq. ft. of this whirling, metallic storm is obliterated.

There is a problem though. The initial delivery system:
When the order comes, the sub shoots a 65-ton Trident II ballistic missile into the sky.


The question is whether such an attack can be deployed without triggering World War III: Those tungsten-armed Tridents look, and fly, exactly like the deadliest weapons in the American nuclear arsenal.
And depending on the target's location, that missile could be headed toward a nervous nuclear power with ICBM capability.

On first blush, it seems to me that a Trident is a tad of an overkill for a 3000 sq ft kill radius warhead. However it is the Trident II which provides the "60 minute" capability through the speed it attains after launch but before release of the X-51 Wave Rider cruise missile. No Trident, no 60 minutes.

There is an alternative available - the almost-as-old-as-me B-52. It, however, can't provide that initial burst of speed the Trident can. With a top speed of 3,600 mph the X-51 is only 60 minutes from a much smaller radius if launched from an aircraft.

And the X-51 "Wave Rider" hypersonic cruise missile? Well it is indeed a work of stunning simplicity:
The WaveRider destroys targets by simply crashing into them at hypersonic speeds. But the technology in this remarkable missile may have wider applications, including ultrafast planes and new space vehicles. Designed by Boeing and Pratt & Whitney for the Air Force Research Laboratory, the X-51 uses just one moving part — the fuel pump — to hit Mach 5, or 3600 mph.
The rest?
Internal inlet- The missile's sharp nose funnels shock waves produced at hypersonic speeds into a rectangular opening on the craft's belly. The shock waves compress the air, eliminating mechanical parts that normally do this.

Isolator- This component adjusts airflow — which can reach 2500 pounds per square foot — to a stable pressure for the combustor. Slowing airflow increases drag on the vehicle, but allows for more complete combustion.

Combustor- Thrust is created when the compressed air mixes with a mist of JP-7 jet fuel and is ignited. Because hypersonic speeds generate sustained temperatures of up to 4500 degrees, the propellant also acts as a coolant — and prevents the X-51’s engine walls from melting.
Its high speed is an integral part of its "weaponry":
Traveling at 13,000 mph and accurate to 30 ft., the warheads are GPS-guided on descent by means of tiny flaps. Two types of warheads are under consideration: the fragmentation version, which shatters tungsten rods just above a target, and a bunker-busting metal "shock impactor" that relies on kinetic energy for its destructive power.
Remember, David's rock against Goliath's skull was a kinetic energy weapon.

What this would essentially mean (only if Trident launched), is the ability to hit a target of opportunity within 60 minutes without worrying about having something within range. Osama observed lunching with the boys in Afghanstan? Fire one.

However, with the Trident II as its present primary delivery vehicle, a much larger potential problem obviously rears it's ugly head. An ICBM headed toward a nuclear weapons capable and nominally unfriendly capital, even peripherally, may be enough to set off a possible chain of events that not even killing Osama would be worth.

Nope, a really cool idea, but they do indeed need to find a new way to deliver it other than a sub launched ballistic missile before we go jihadist hunting. As it stands, though, the technology is both simple and impressive. Now if we just had a Mach 5 B-52 ("The wings fell off when?").
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Whatever happened to the neutron bomb? It kills people (like the cited weapons are intended to do) but without structural or environmental (I think) damage.
Written By: Nuclear
URL: http://
ER Weapons AREN’T particularly environmentally friendly devices...

As a modest proposal how about basing the Trident God Rods at Vandenberg and Kennedy Spaceport. Place a Russian and Chinese team with Satellite communications at both sites. When and IF the US decides to fire the Conventional Tridents we alert the the teams and have them give their governments a 15 minute warning? The teams are there to inspect and assure that the weapons loaded ARE conventionally armed. The 15 minute warning obviates them as a First Strike (Nuclear) Weapon. Note we do NOT provide the target, only notice that in 15 minutes we are firing one. It’s not like Moscow and Beijing can call EVERY terrorist and warn them....AFTER launch they may refine the impact area and get a call out, but that’s going to be considerably less than a 15 minute warning. Any way, a modest proposal from a Nuclear Owl.

And the yper-sonic Cruise Missile...way kewl!

This SO beats the other techno-story of yesterday, the Trans-Atmosopheric Vehicle designed to deliver thirteen, yes THIRTEEN Lean n’ Mean Marines to any place in the world in 2 hours! Assuming that place had a runway capable of handling the lander, but then Usama ALWYS has a shuttle landing bay next door, right?
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
"Anything within 3000 sq. ft. of this whirling, metallic storm is obliterated."

Isn’t this something less than impressive? I’m no math major, but 3000 SQUARE feet translates to like a 31 ft. radius . . . I’m not a dove, but it seems like risking nuclear war isn’t worth obliterating an area the size of a small office building.
Written By: Sean
Isn’t this something less than impressive? I’m no math major, but 3000 SQUARE feet translates to like a 31 ft. radius . . . I’m not a dove, but it seems like risking nuclear war isn’t worth obliterating an area the size of a small office building.
It is a precision weapon which would have an almost total desired effect (thus the word "obliterated") within its radius but minimal collateral damage. That makes it very attractive for surgical strikes against high value targets, because it narrows the "no-go" matrix even more when contemplating a strike. Now a neighborhood may not be ruled out because of that precision and limited radius.

But your point about risking nuclear war to deliver it is well taken.
Written By: McQ
Sean let’s be honest, that IS worth the risk of nuclear war, it is 3000 square feet of whirling, Mach-Five TUNGSTEN! If that is not the coolest implement of deee-struction....
Written By: Joe
URL: http://

If your target was in Afghanistan, would you not also have to have Pakistani and Indian teams on hand at the launch to check it as well?
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Why would it trigger a war? what nations are capable of detecting a submarine launch on the other side of the world? he Iranians? Not likely.
Written By: kyle N
Another idea adopted from various science fiction authors of the Cold War era (and no, that’s not meant as a jab at either the idea or SF authors). The original version of this idea was to use satellites as the delivery vehicle and to simply drop telephone pole-sized tungsten rods from orbit. You’d avoid the "mistaken for a nuclear launch" problem and -could- see increased energy release (on par with small, 1-5kT nuclear weapons), but to date there’s no design that provides a better cost/performance ratio than the ballistic missile method.

As for who could detect a launch: Russia and China right now. Iran has one satellite up now and is planning several more over the next few years, including recce satellites (although everything I’ve read on them to date suggests they’ll be fairly primitive, like our original KH models: the ones that had to literally drop their film for pickup). India’s Technology Experiment Satellite was (in addition to being a demonstrator) for all intents and purposes an IMINT satellite since it was mounted with a camera capable of returning 1-meter resolution images. Several other nations have launched spy satellites, but they’re supposedly friendly.
Written By: Lysenko
URL: http://
The quoted article says 3,000 square feet, and is noted in a comment and responded to by McQ. But McQ’s commentary in the post references a 3,000 meter kill zone.

First, an object entering the atmosphere at a speed where the engine temperature provides cooling will not have an impact zone of 31’ or 10 meters. Particularly when it weighs over 60 tons at launch. This ain’t no pea. It5 still weighs tons at impact.

A 3,000 meter radius kill zone seems a bit excessive as well. That is nearly 4 miles in diameter. Possible, but unlikely for a precision weapon.

A good illustration of tossing out numbers, but no attempt to connect or source the wildly varying parameters. But I doubt a newspaper editior would notice.
Written By: Tee Jay
URL: http://
I really liked this article, but Tee Jay... wow. Coming right after the last two MSM hit pieces, that might be the ironic smackdown of the year.

If you can’t get a good education... how did that botched joke finish?

Jon, does this factual error benefit liberals?
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Harun, No...It’s unlikely that India OR Pakistan are going to launch weapons or move to a higher level of readiness on the basis of an AMERICAN launch, whereas the PRC and Russia might, after all they’re Great Powers and CONCEIVABLY the US might want to preempt them, especially as both of their arsenals are in a weakened or embryonic state. I really doubt that India or Pakistan worry too much about the US attacking them, simply out of the blue. The Indians probably don’t worry about it at all. Finally, the Pak’s and the Indians probably wouldn’t be aware of the launch until the warheads were within a few hundred kilometres of their borders, both lacking any satellite observation and Long-range BMEW Systems, they won’t even notice them coming and IF you’re targeting North Korea, they won’t know about the strikes until they see it on CNN.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The quoted article says 3,000 square feet, and is noted in a comment and responded to by McQ. But McQ’s commentary in the post references a 3,000 meter kill zone.
Yup, my commentary is incorrect. It should have said "3000 sq. ft. kill zone".

Edited to do so.
Coming right after the last two MSM hit pieces, that might be the ironic smackdown of the year.
Yesh ... really? "... of the year?"

My goodness.
Written By: McQ

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