DARPA’s missile offers a glimpse of genuinely game-changing technology.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has discreetly disclosed Gambit, a new high-speed missile program. The effort is intended to utilize a revolutionary propulsion system that might have far-reaching ramifications not only for weapon development but also for high-speed aircraft and possibly how the Navy’s warships are propelled.
This propulsion concept, known as a rotating detonation engine (RDE), has the potential to be lighter than conventional jet engines while increasing power output, range, and fuel economy significantly.
The Gambit missile is only one of several initiatives refocusing on RDE technology, yet for the most part, these systems have remained beneath the media’s notice. Except for Aviation Week & Space Technology Defense Editor Steve Trimble, who has extensively covered these recent developments. Trimble was gracious enough to explain that work to me as I looked to better appreciate the significance of this technology.
Although Rotation Detonation Engines are not commonly discussed today, in the midst of the ongoing hypersonic arms race and America’s renewed focus on deterring near-peers, this technology could help offset a number of tactical and strategic advantages presented by America’s adversaries in places like Europe and the Pacific.
Rotation detonation engines might provide similar benefits to missiles in terms of range and speed while potentially decreasing maintenance needs in aviation applications such as jet fighters. Fighters, in particular, rely on afterburners, which effectively firehose gasoline into the engine’s exhaust stream for extra power, quickly depleting fuel supplies and reducing the fighter’s range. RDEs might possibly provide a similar gain in thrust with a far lower fuel penalty.
However, where this technology may be most valuable is in powering the Navy’s future non-nuclear surface boats, enabling higher power generation, range, and speed while reducing the Navy’s financial bottom line.