Modelling the Performance of Hypersonic Boost-Glide Missiles

Cameron L. Tracy and David Wright, "Modelling the Performance of Hypersonic Boost-Glide Missiles," Science & Global Security, vol. 28, no. 3 (2020)

The United States, Russia, and China are developing an array of hypersonic weapons--maneuverable vehicles that carry warheads through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound. Proponents claim that these weapons outperform existing missiles in terms of delivery time and evasion of early warning systems. Here, we report computational modelling of hypersonic boost-glide missile flight which shows that these weapons travel intercontinental distances more slowly than comparable ballistic missiles flying depressed trajectories, and that they remain visible to existing space-based sensors for the majority of flight. Fundamental physical limitations imposed by low-altitude atmospheric flight render hypersonic missiles an evolutionary--not revolutionary--advancement over established ballistic missile technologies. Misperceptions of hypersonic weapon performance have arisen from social processes by which the organizations developing these weapons construct erroneous technical facts favoring continued investment. The modelling reported here provides a basis for rigorous, quantitative analysis of hypersonic weapon performance.

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