What weapons can fly at more than five times the speed of sound and a virtually undetectable? Welcome to the world of hypersonic missiles. There’s two types of hypersonic weapons being developed a cruise missile that uses a super fast scramjet to fly at hypersonic speed and a boost glide vehicle, a warhead that’s launched aboard a rocket then released falling to Earth at more than Mach five, around a mile a second.
A Tomahawk cruise missile flies at a speed of Mach 0.8, so close to the speed of sound. Now, by comparison, the Russians icon the hypersonic cruise missile flies at anywhere between Mach eight and 10. So we’re talking about a nearly tenfold increase in the speed of the missile. Four boost glide vehicles The Chinese DF 17 is alleged to have speeds of Mach 10 plus
Traditional ballistic missiles follow a parabolic trajectory, a predictable arc that goes up and down like a ball. It means they can be detected early in flight. Hypersonic glide vehicles work differently. They exploit physics using dragon friction so they can fly in all directions like an aircraft. But it’s super fast speeds, making them very difficult to detect until it’s too late.
They fly below the radar horizons, meaning that the warning times they provide are quite short and because they are maneuverable, actually figuring out where they’re headed, what their target is is an exceedingly difficult computing task.
Most missiles rely mainly on their warhead for their destructive power, but hypersonic weapons also have huge kinetic energy. They can hit a target of more than a thousand miles an hour, literally packing a punch equivalent to over three tons of TNT.
The combination of accuracy and really high kinetic energy makes it possible to break through targets with a hypersonic missile that previously you would have needed a nuclear level payload or at least something approaching it to really sort of threaten credibly.