The Pentagon is planning a new generation of weapons, including huge hypersonic drones and bombs dropped from space, that will allow the US to strike its enemies at lightning speed from its own territory.
Over the next 25 years, the new technology would free the US from dependence on forward bases and the cooperation of regional allies, part of the drive towards self-suffi ciency spurred by the difficulties of gaining international cooperation for the invasion of Iraq.
The new weapons are being developed under a programme codenamed Falcon (Force Application and Launch from the Continental US).
A US defence website has invited bids from contractors to develop the technology and the current edition of Jane's Defence Weekly reports that the first flight tests are scheduled to take place within three years.
According to the website run by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) the programme is aimed at fulfilling "the government's vision of an ultimate prompt global reach capability (circa 2025 and beyond)".
The Falcon technology would "free the US military from reliance on forward basing to enable it to react promptly and decisively to destabilising or threatening actions by hostile countries and terrorist organisations", according to the Darpa invitation for bids. The ultimate goal would be a "reusable hypersonic cruise vehicle (HCV) ... capable of taking off from a conventional military runway and striking targets 9,000 nautical miles distant in less than two hours".
The unmanned HCV would carry a payload of up to 12,000 lbs and could ultimately fly at speeds of up to 10 times the speed of sound, according to Daniel Goure, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute in Washington.