US plans new space weapons against China

By Alex Spillius in Washington
Last Updated: 1:02pm GMT 14/11/2007

The Falcon could fly at six times the speed of sound and deliver bombs anywhere in the world in minutes

The Pentagon is spending billions of dollars on new forms of space warfare to counter the growing risk of missile attack from rogue states and the "satellite killer" capabilities of China.

The Falcon could fly at six times the speed of sound and deliver bombs anywhere in the world in minutes

Congress has allocated funds to develop futuristic weapons and intelligence systems that operate beyond the Earth's atmosphere as America looks past Iraq and Afghanistan to the wars of the future.

The most ambitious project in a new $459 billion (£221.5 billion) defence spending Bill is the Falcon, a reusable "hypersonic vehicle" that could fly at six times the speed of sound and deliver 12,000lb of bombs anywhere in the world within minutes.

The bombs' destructive power would be multiplied by the Earth's gravitational pull as they travelled at up to 25 times the speed of sound towards their target.

The cost of the vehicle has not been revealed, but a spokesman for the Pentagon's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) said a first test flight was scheduled for next year.

Loren Thompson, a leading defence analyst in Washington, said the focus of the project was attacking "time sensitive targets" in states such as North Korea and Iran, which have either developed nuclear weapons without international approval or are suspected of doing so.

"If we received intelligence that a strike was about to happen on South Korea, or on Israel, we would want to destroy that within minutes and not hours. But from most current US bases that is not feasible.

"With a hyper-sonic vehicle launching from the Middle East or Asia you could be over hostile territory within minutes," he said. "It's not just a question of can we destroy North Korean weapons, but can we get there quickly enough in the event of an imminent launch?"

Darpa is also developing a small unmanned launch vehicle that would provide "responsive and affordable" access to space, for less than $5 million per launch. The first test flight was made in March.

It would be capable of re-launching satellites that had been attacked, or acting as a fast-moving replacement for a damaged satellite with intelligence sensors of its own that could identify enemy installations.

In its 621-page report on the Defence Appropriations Bill, Congressmen from both Republican and Democratic parties said: "Enhancing these capabilities is crucial, particularly following the Chinese anti-satellite weapons demonstration last January."

In China's first successful test of an anti-satellite system, a ground-based missile fired into space shattered a weather satellite in low earth orbit. The Pentagon has also given warning that China is making greater efforts to hack into its defence computers.

Congress awarded $150 million for the Falcon project and its associated "prompt global strike" programme. A defence industry source said it was likely that hundreds of millions more were being spent on space warfare "away from the public view".

The "global strike" platform would give America the "forward presence" it requires around the world without the need for bases outside the US.

Attempts to base missile defence shields in Poland and Czechoslovakia have provoked a fierce row with Russia, while Uzbekistan, which neighbours Afghanistan, evicted the US from an air base two years ago.

• The economic cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated at $1.6 trillion (£772 billion) - roughly double what the White House has requested thus far, according to a report by Congress' Joint Economic Committee.

For the Iraq war only, total economic costs were estimated at $1.3 trillion (£627 billion) from 2002 to 2008.


Max speed: Mach 6 (4,614mph)

Payload: 12,000lbs including cruise missles, 1,000lbs penetrator munitions and independent 'kill gliders'


Satellites: 370 miles

Space shuttle: 230 miles

Falcon: 28 miles

Concorde: 12 miles

Airliners: 6 miles

Sources: Darpa and ... tviewedbox