A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress released a prototype Lockheed Martin [LMT] AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) off the southern California coast on May 14, the U.S. Air Force said, thus marking the first flight test success after three aborted attempts last year.
“Following separation from the aircraft, the ARRW’s booster ignited and burned for expected duration, achieving hypersonic speeds five times greater than the speed of sound,” the Air Force said in a May 17 statement.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the service’s Program Executive Officer for Weapons, said in the statement that his team is ” ready to build on what we’ve learned and continue moving hypersonics forward.”
The 419th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) and the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force (GPB CTF) at Edwards AFB, Calif., performed the May 14 test.
The Air Force is requesting $115 million for research and development in fiscal 2023 for ARRW.
That amount is a decrease of more than $200 million from last year—a drop due to the three failures of ARRW booster flight tests in April, July, and December of last year.
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.
The Air Force is also asking for $317 million for R&D on the air-breathing Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) in fiscal 2023, and Kendall has said that air-breathing hypersonic missile designs using scramjet engines have shown more promise thus far for the U.S. than hypersonic glide vehicles, like ARRW.
“Overall, what we need to get to with hypersonics is the ability to engage moving targets,” Kendall told lawmakers recently. “Current systems are generally designed for fixed targets, and there are some fixed targets that we might want hypersonics to attack cost effectively, but for the future we want to get to another class of targets.”
For two decades, the U.S. has researched hypersonic missiles for conventional prompt global strike but has only recently begun to take them seriously, in no small part due to China’s and Russia’s reported advances in hypersonic glide technologies.
ARRW, risibly coined 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, but the testing setbacks and ongoing Air Force analysis of possible hypersonic targets will likely delay that timetable.
Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Jungquist, the commander of the 419th FLTS and the director of GPB CTF, said in the Air Force statement on May 17 that “we’re doing everything we can to get this game-changing weapon to the warfighter as soon as possible.”
The fiscal 2022 omnibus spending act zeroed the $161 million U.S. Air Force request for the buy of the first 12 ARRWs and redirected $80 million of that funding to the Air Force research and development account to remedy an ARRW “testing shortfall” (Defense Daily, March 10).