Conventional small arms fire bullets that travel anywhere from 1,000 m/s to 1,500 m/s. More powerful rifles can shoot anywhere up to 4,000 miles per hour.
Modern missiles however, travel at around 5,000 m/s. However, there are some missiles in development which might one day be able to travel a mile a second.
In terms of conventional missiles, research from the US Army has unlocked a way to get more energetic performance out of the metal powders present in the propellant in their munitions.
Long Range Precision Fires
The US Army has already invested over $900 million into research into Long Range Precision Fire, an initiative designed to create missiles that fly further, faster, and land with more impact. This is one of the top priorities for militaries around the world today, looking to lessen the need for active combatants in the field. However, this can only be achieved in new systems work effectively, at longer ranges than is currently possible.
Aluminium micron powder is present in most battlefield systems. When combined with graphene oxide and ignited, the level of combustion can be more accurately controlled to achieve the desired level of power. It also increases the amount of aluminium reacting on a microsecond timescale.
Graphene is one of the strongest and lightest materials in the world, with many uses in the defence sector.
Graphene Oxide could soon be used as a lightweight additive to the aluminium micron powder present in the weapon. A micron is a millionth of a meter in diameter, but even this tiny size is enough to provide a high level of energy and propulsion. Aluminium can provide a high level of heat for low cost, due to the natural abundance of the material.
A mechanical mixing process wraps the Aluminium in a sheet of graphene oxide, allowing for more complete combustion.
More Precise Weapons Require Extensive Upgrades
However, being able to fire missiles further doesn’t necessarily increase their effectiveness. Precision-strike and hypersonic missiles are currently in development, which can travel anywhere from five to ten times the speed of sound. These types of weapons are currently being developed by the USA, China, and Russia.
There are plans to develop an artillery cannon with a thousand kilometre range, that can fire at hypervelocity speeds. Pentagon funding for hypersonics research reached $278 million in 2019, not only to create viable offensive capabilities, but also to create a working defensive system. Hypersonic missiles would likely have a range of around 1,200 miles, and currently are virtually impossible to intercept.
Precision is a key element of any new weapon, something that has always been an issue for large scale military endeavours. New computer systems using AI will play a pivotal role in any future conflicts, not only in plotting initial flight paths for missiles, but also in creating new evasive patterns when the missile is intercepted.
The next few decades will see massive escalation in the race for superiority, already being likened the arms race seen in the run up to the Cold War.