The U.S. Air Force is evaluating a possible unit cost increase for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) and other effects that a House Appropriations Committee-recommended procurement cut to ARRW may mean, if enacted.
The service requested $399 million in research and development for ARRW in fiscal 2022, including $161 million to buy the first 12 missiles (Defense Daily, May 18). ARRW is to be the nation’s first hypersonic weapon and is to achieve an “early operational capability” by the end of fiscal 2022 after a contract award in January, per the Air Force.
The House Appropriations Committee’s version of the fiscal 2022 defense funding bill funds the rapid prototyping research and development for ARRW but advises a procurement cut of $44 million, “an amount approximately equal to four missiles, to the request while noting that the rapid prototyping effort intends to provide up to four all-up round missiles as a residual early operational capability,” per the committee’s report on the bill.
The committee report said that “the flight test regimen for the rapid prototyping program has become increasingly delayed and compressed, increasing the concurrency risk to the first production lot of weapons.”
“Should the prototyping flight tests result in minimal discoveries, rendering the budgeted funds for engineering change orders excess to need, the committee supports the use of these funds [$44 million] to procure missiles above the eight funded in this recommendation by utilizing buy-to-budget authority,” the committee said.
Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force program executive officer for weapons, said in a Zoom call with reporters on Aug. 4 that the Air Force wants to see a successful all-up round ARRW test before the service awards a production contract for Lot 1.
House appropriators’ recommended $44 million cut for ARRW “would impact the Lot 1 award following all-up round success in the test program,” Collins said.
“We’re still evaluating the impact of what the cut would do to that first lot,” he said. “Reducing the quantity will result in an increase in the unit cost, and we’ve also got to take a look at what that means to the supply base and that support– appropriate numbers for some relatively fragile subs [subcontractors] within that industry, a rather new market. We’re still working through that.”
The Air Force halted the launch sequence for the first planned booster flight test of a prototype ARRW from a B-52H bomber on Apr. 5 over Point Mugu Sea Range, Calif., and on July 28, during the second planned booster flight test, the rocket motor failed to ignite.
Collins said that the Air Force put in a fix after the Apr. 5 test that the service was able to verify in the July 28 test during which the missile separated from the aircraft and demonstrated “the full release sequence including GPS acquisition, umbilical disconnect power transfer from the aircraft to the missile, fin operation and de-confliction maneuvers to ensure a safe operation for the aircrew, the Air Force said.
After the rocket motor ignition failure on July 28, the Air Force established a failure review board (FRB) to examine the data and determine a root cause. Collins said that any impact to the ARRW schedule will depend on the FRB’s findings. If the latter involves minor fixes, the planned testing schedule could go forward, while a re-design could involve a testing schedule delay, Collins said.
ARRW is to destroy high-value, time-sensitive targets and enable rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets.