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New hi-tech weapons

18 October 2021

Everybody enjoys a good explosion now and then, so long as nobody's standing too close when it happens.

As a result of this enjoyment of loud noises and pyrotechnics (as well as a desire to attain or maintain military superiority), many countries remain actively engaged in coming up with new weapons.

Only a fool brings a knife to a gunfight they say, and so it is in the league of world-wide military dominance. If you don't have the latest, greatest and most capable weapons you are at a significant disadvantage these days. What's more, simply being a member of the "nuke club" is no longer enough.

As a result of this, we've recently seen a raft of new super-techy weapons being announced and even demonstrated by superpowers and those nations which aspire to become a superpower.

On the weekend, Reuters reported that China demonstrated its new hypersonic missile, something which it is claimed has "caught US intelligence by surprise".

Well although there are many who would argue that the phrase "US intelligence" is an oxymoron, I still doubt that there was really any surprise involved. The US itself has been working on hypersonic cruise missiles for quite some time and although China may be a little ahead of them right now, it won't be long before Ratheon and a bunch of others step up to the plate with their offerings.

So why are hypersonic cruise missiles so important?

Well traditional ballistic missiles follow pretty much a parabolic trajectory. This means their path can be pretty easily extrapolated so that they may be intercepted by anti-missile missiles.

Hypersonic cruise missiles however, fly a path that can be programmed not to obey a simple ballistic path. This makes it impossible to figure out where they will be at any given moment in the future. Of course this is also true of a conventional cruise missile but because those craft fly at subsonic speeds they can easily be intercepted by much faster defense missiles.

Intercepting a hypersonic cruise missile however, is much, much harder -- some claim near-impossible. The combination of speeds in excess of 6,000KPH combined with a programmable flight path makes them all but untouchable by any existing defense technology.

Clearly, these missiles could be a game-changer, rendering an enemy's defensive capabilities all but useless and shifting the balance of air superiority.

US military officials will likely be calmed somewhat by the news that the Chinese version missed its intended target by almost 40Km. In an era where we're used to seeing GPS and laser-guided munitions being accurate enough to fly through the open windows of buildings, 40Km is pretty bad.

So why did it miss by so much?

Well odds are that it may not have been able to use GPS or the Chinese equivalent for its guidance. At the speeds we're talking, doppler shift can really mess up the accuracy of such satellite-based systems so new guidance mechanisms will have to be employed. Dead reckoning (inertial) systems lose significant accuracy over time/distance so visual systems may be what's required although even then, at low altitude and at high speed, even these systems will face challenges.

Another interesting new weapon is the Vision 60 robot dog with gun from Ghost Robotics. Just the thing to make all your Terminator nightmares come true.

Although military analysts repeatedly tell us that future wars will be won or lost based on air superiority, it seems that virtually every war ever faught (with perhaps the exception of the Battle of Britain) has relied to some extent on "feet on the ground". Robot warriors offer the prospect of engaging ground-based actions against soliders at much lower risk than before.

Ultimately we must step back for a moment and breathe a sigh of disappointment that so much money is being spent on weaponry when we have so many other problems to deal with. I guess human-kind is still far to aggressive and primative to recognise the benefits that would come from cooperation rather than combat.

Ah well, maybe one day... if we (as a species) survive that long.

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