I await the nation’s call, I am ready

The development of new technologies such as hypersonic missiles and laser weapons is to be given a boost from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with extra money, the Government has announced.

I have actually done some work on hypersonic weapons. Those Mach 5 and all rockets. Hmm, scramjets? The insides of those engines get very hot indeed. Which means you need hafnium carbide to line them. Which is not a usual material to have lying around.

So we made some for the Americans in Moscow. Nice little job too.

I stand ready when the nation needs me – although to be fair a Russian supply line might not be quite what they’re looking for…..

17 thoughts on “I await the nation’s call, I am ready”

  1. There is precedent.

    When Lockheed were building the SR-71 family they needed lashings of titanium in quantities only available from mines and such in the Soviet Union.

    The story goes that the CIA set up a complex system of cut-outs to procure it for them.

  2. Don’t hold your breath or spend all day checking your post Tim. More blowhard bullshit from Bogus Al Bluemarxist Blojob Johnson.

    When Sunak’s funny money runs out he will be haf-ing nothing in his bag except hot air. Which is all there is now save the belief of assorted mugs united only by their muggery. That is already on the wane. He is a balloon waiting to pop.

  3. Ti mines aren’t a problem. Ilmenite’s as cheap as chips ($80 a tonne mebbe) and DuPont processes millions of tonnes a year.

    It’s turning titanium dioxide into Ti metal that’s the problem…..and yes, the Soviets did do it better and at scale.

  4. Might be better finding a way to shoot down all the kamikaze drones as seen in the recent Armenian/ Azeri conflict. Not much good if your £6 billion aircraft carrier gets sunk by a £1000 glorified model aeroplane.

  5. @Jonathan – maybe they should organise a “skeet-shooting” club on every warship, with cash prizes for the most successful. A 12-bore loaded with #1 shot would make quite a mess of any “model aeroplane”-type drone.

  6. Are you sure that’s what they wanted the hafnium carbide for, Tim? Or was it a cover story…

    I recall that hafnium is used as a control rod element in some of the more advanced boomer-sub reactors, and caused great sourcing difficulty. I guess a cover story would be in order, if seeking to purchase it from target Number 1.

  7. There are two classes of hafnium out there – as there are two classes of zirconium. All – natural – Zr is 2 to 4% Hf. They’re chemically very similar and that’s just the way it works. But they have very different nuclear properties. Zr is transparent to neutrons, Hf opaque. We use Zr and Hf – for chemistry reasons – in reactors, yes. But the Zr is the tubes through which we want the neutrons to move, the Hf in the control rods which we don’t want them to move through.

    In order to make this work we need to use Zr which has the Hf taken out of it – and Hf which is cleared of the Zr. Which is what we do. Most Zr and Hf out there is a percent or four of the other and it doesn’t matter a damn. Nuclear grade is pure. The rules about shipping the normal stuff around the place are simple. The nuclear grade stuff sends you to jail for 20 years if you do it without a licence.

    Yes, I have had such a licence but didn’t need it for the scramjet work.

  8. Jonathan,

    To get a little technogeeky, ships don’t have to worry much about small drones/UAS (unmanned air systems).

    If you’re operating more than a mile or two offshore, the small stuff is out of range (of both the control station, and the batteries go flat before they get to the ship).

    Go bigger, and you hit the problem that the ship is small compared to the very big sea, and moves at a decent (relative to most UAS) speed; you need quite a big drone with non-trivial sensors to have the range, endurance, and speed to get out there, search for, find, and chase a warship – turn into the wind and speed up, and a UAS has to make ~50 knots to even keep up let alone overtake.

    “We’ll send a swarm out to sweep the area, then converge to attack!” – okay, now you’ve got navigation issues (civilian PNT? not in a warzone you don’t…), communication issues (how do your drones talk to each other to share info?) and timing and co-ordination problems.

    Then, of course, you have to carry enough bangy or burny stuff to seriously inconvenience a warship, which is designed to survive a fair bit of punishment so you need quite a lot of lethal payload compared to the hand-grenade-sized top-attack anti-tank stuff.

    By this point you’ve got a UAS the size of a small aircraft, with sophisticated navigation, sensors, and secure comms, and it’s expensive and complex enough that it looks more sensible to make it re-usable and have it drop the warhead on the target and return for another payload rather than be a one-way trip.

    Since it’s now also big enough to be easily seen by eyes, infrared and radar, it’s going to get shot at, so it needs defensive countermeasures to survive long enough to make its attack (let alone get back out).

    And running all this remotely or by AI onboard is a pain in the posterior, might as well put a human operator aboard to run all these systems… we could call it a “manned air system”, perhaps?

    It’s not that there’s no threat at all, just that it’s not the total game-changer some armchair analysts seem to believe: UAS operating off ships goes back to the 1950s (the QH-50 Drone Anti Submarine Helicopter, for instance) and the RN was running Trial ARKANTOS back in 2004 or so to my direct personal knowledge, to get an idea of what unmanned systems could and couldn’t do. There are valid threats and concerns, but “swarms of tiny drones” aren’t one of them for ships at sea.

  9. My dear Baron; the Israeli and Turkish drones are a bit larger than that; payload is under 500lb. Interestingly, the Azeri’s apparently converted AN-2s into drones as well.

  10. Didn’t we use to make target drones out of old jets by swapping in a replacement for the ejector seat? Aren’t old jets pretty much ten a penny? There’s something there for third worlders to think about on a threat per cost basis.

  11. If the government’s getting behind a hypersonic missile project, aren’t we getting our priorities a bit skewed? How diverse is it going to be? What will be its pronouns?

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