The conference report on the fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill zeroes the $161 million U.S. Air Force request for the buy of the first 12 Lockheed Martin [LMT] AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) and redirects $80 million of that funding to the Air Force research and development account to remedy an ARRW “testing shortfall.”
The House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2022 defense appropriations bill had advised reductions in ARRW procurement and said that a full buy of 12 missiles was “early to need.”
Air Force weapons program officials had been evaluating how a reduction in the planned fiscal 2022 buy of 12 missiles would affect the program, including the extent to which a lower buy would increase ARRW unit costs (Defense Daily, Aug. 4, 2021).
ARRW, ingloriously termed the “super duper weapon” by former President Trump, was to be the nation’s first hypersonic weapon and to achieve an “early operational capability” by the end of fiscal 2022. ARRW is to destroy high-value, time-sensitive targets and enable rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets.
But Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has said that he wants more analysis on the cost and operational effectiveness of hypersonic missiles.
Prototype ARRWs failed three booster flight tests last year in April, July, and December.
“I think there was a rush to hypersonics in the previous administration that at the time I questioned, ‘Is this really the right path for the United States?’ I still have some of those questions,” Kendall has said.
The high costs of hypersonic missiles that may entail a unit cost in the tens of millions of dollars will likely mean that the United States will not field high numbers of them in the near term, he said last month.
Kendall also said that hypersonics is not the U.S.’ only option to penetrate heavily defended airspace and that stealth aircraft may also serve that purpose.
In addition, he has warned against the United States mirror imaging Chinese hypersonic weapon efforts and said that the countries have different target sets (Defense Daily, Jan. 19). Kendall said that Air Force efforts are focused on hitting maneuverable targets, while Chinese efforts have dealt with fixed targets, such as air bases.
During a virtual roundtable meeting with senior Pentagon leaders in February, industry executives working on hypersonics told the Pentagon officials that they need more access to modeling capabilities and testing facilities “in order to adopt a ‘test often, fail fast, and learn’ approach which will accelerate the fielding of hypersonic and counter-hypersonic systems,” DoD wrote in an announcement detailing the session.
Lockheed Martin received a rapid prototyping contract for ARRW in August 2018.