550 miles per hour is too slow. And a 1,500-mile range just isn't big enough.The Tomahawk cruise missile may seem fast and far-reaching. But Pentagon planners want more. Late last week, they handed out contracts to 10 firms to start designing a hypersonic missile that can outrun the now-retired Concorde, and can hit a terrorist nest in Europe from the East Coast.The Falcon, or Force Application and Launch from the Continental United States, project aims to fire a bunker-busting bomb into near-space, and then send it crashing into a target more than 3,000 miles away, at four times the speed of sound.Speed is becoming an increasingly crucial component of how American forces fight. In the Gulf War, it took days for the U.S. military to identify a target and put a bomb on it. In recent engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, that process was cut to as little as 20 minutes, in some cases.But this quick response only happens when there are bombers and cruise missiles in the immediate neighborhood. If U.S. forces receive a tip that terrorists are in a part of the world where they don't have American planes in the sky, it can take hours, or days, to act on that information.With its proposed speed and range, the Falcon project -- co-sponsored by the Air Force and Darpa, the Pentagon's research arm -- aims to make just about the whole world a dangerous place to be a bad guy."When Osama's bad brother Larry shows up suddenly in Niger, this is something we can target him with immediately," said Daniel Goure, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Virginia.My Wired News article has details on the Falcon effort.THERE'S MORE: A German missile systems company, Lenkflugkrpersysteme, "has for the first time conducted a test firing of a hypersonic missile surpassing Mach 7," says Jane's International Defence Review. "But the firing, on 23 October at Germany's Meppen proving range, may be the last in LFK's hypersonic missile development program now that the German defense ministry has withdrawn all funding as of January 2004, the company's new technologies and studies chief engineer Peter Gleich has told IDR." An LFK press release about the event is here.AND MORE: In the 60's, Defense Tech pal Jim Lewis notes, the U.S. built a drone that could go Mach 3 -- and even flew it over China a few times.AND MORE: Air Force forecasters predict that by 2015, America's foes will be able to keep most U.S. planes 250-300 nautical miles away. That's one of the reasons that Air Force is so keen on Falcon, according to a recent Inside the Air Force report.

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