U.S. Army Terminates Second Flight of Hypersonic Weapon

 - August 26, 2014, 10:08 PM
The Army terminated the second test flight of the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon soon after it lifted off. (Image: Sandia National Laboratories)

The U.S. Army terminated the second test flight of its Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) concept vehicle soon after launching it on August 25 after detecting a “flight anomaly,” the Pentagon said. The experimental glide vehicle and its three-stage rocket booster exploded and fell back on the Kodiak Launch Complex where it had lifted off, some 25 miles from Kodiak, Alaska. There were no injuries.

“Program officials are conducting an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the flight anomaly,” the Department of Defense (DOD) said in a statement.

On August 26, Kodiak public radio station KMXT said the explosion appeared to have caused significant damage to the launch tower and assembly buildings at the launch complex. In the aftermath of the explosion, “calls for the facility’s closure have resumed,” the station said, describing the complex as “never universally popular among Kodiak residents.” The facility’s last launch was three years ago.

The AHW is part of the DOD’s “Prompt Global Strike” technology development program to produce a global strike capability with a non-nuclear, conventional weapon. The glide vehicle is designed to fly within the earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speed of Mach 5—about 3,800 mph. Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, N.M., developed the glide vehicle and booster system; the Army’s Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center in Huntsville, Ala., developed the thermal protection system. The Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC)/Army Forces Strategic Command manages the effort.

In the first test flight, on Nov. 17, 2011, the Army launched the AHW from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. The vehicle flew a non-ballistic glide trajectory at hypersonic speed to the “planned impact location” at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The flight lasted 30 minutes and covered about 2,500 miles, according to the Army. Boost-glide flight tests the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency conducted in April 2010 and August 2011 preceded the first AHW flight, the Army said.

Army SMDC commander Lt. Gen. David L. Mann told the Senate Armed Services Committee, subcommittee on strategic forces, in March that the second AHW flight test would help determine the system’s future. “Everything is kind of predicated on what happens after the test,” Mann told senators, according to the Army news service.

In June, the Army SMDC awarded Ducommun-Miltec of Huntsville a $44 million contract for research and development of the AHW, with an expected contract completion date of June 5, 2019. The command said it solicited bids via the Internet and received one.