The U.S. Air Force plans to hold a flight demonstration of the AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) by Lockheed Martin [LMT] this month.
“We’re hoping that our flight demonstrator for our hypersonic weapon will be successful this month and that we’ll get into production next year,” Air Force Acquisition Chief Will Roper told the Air Force Association Doolittle Forum on Dec. 15.
If that happens, ARRW would become the U.S.’ first fielded hypersonic weapon. Roper said on Dec. 15 that, while the Air Force is looking to lure commercial companies, including start-ups, to provide advanced technologies for military use, the service has not turned its back on traditional defense firms.
“A hypersonic weapon is not something we’re going to get from a commercial company anytime soon so there will always be a need for that [dedicated military acquisition],” Roper said. “But 80 percent of the research and development in this nation is commercial so we have to have a process that makes sense for commercial companies that don’t have any defense people on their roster. Our AFWERX process is really about reaching companies in plain English.”
The Air Force plans to field hypersonic platforms in the next decade, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, the former Pacific Air Forces Commander, told Congress that he wants to accelerate such efforts (Defense Daily, May 7).
Speaking before the Senate Armed Service Committee (SASC) during his May confirmation hearing, Brown told lawmakers that he had daily access to intel reports detailing China’s hypersonic advancements.
Holding deep targets at risk through hypersonic, stand-off weapons alone is likely a non-starter, however.
“Hypersonic weapons are a capability. They are not a solution,” Roper said. “I think the name belies that they are going to be more impactful than they will actually be. They are not a solution where when you write it down, you put a box around it, and you’re done with the math problem.”
China has emphasized the development of hypersonic weapons as a countermeasure against U.S. ballistic missile defenses, as BMD is ineffective against non-ballistic, low-flying hypersonic weapons that take advantage of the curvature of the earth to hide, Roper said.
“The U.S. has exceptional capabilities, especially in stealth aircraft, that can penetrate and put weapons where they wish,” he said. “Do our adversaries believe we don’t have the ability to target them? I would hope not. Hypersonic weapons just then become another way to do it.”
The “game changing” characteristic of hypersonic weapons may be the relative ease and low cost of mating such weapons to hard points on bombers, such as the Boeing [BA] B-52 bomber, rather than depending on basing rights or building new bases to launch strike aircraft, Roper said.