The U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin [LMT] held the sixth instrumented measurement vehicle (IMV) flight test for the company’s hypersonic AGM-183 Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) on a B-52H bomber from Edwards AFB, Calif. on Dec. 19.

“The extreme environmental conditions while travelling at high speeds and at altitudes above 50,000 feet offer a unique challenge,” Lockheed Martin said on Dec. 21. Such challenges include equipping sensors and electronics to withstand the heat, friction, and air resistance created by hypersonic flight; developing advanced materials for such flight; maneuverability to overcome the defenses of adversaries; and continous connectivity with operators and decision-makers.

The Air Force also conducted captive carry flight tests on Oct. 23 and Oct. 29. The Dec. 19th test was the sixth IMV flight leading up to booster flight testing.

Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper said recently that the service expects to begin production of ARRW next year to make it the first fielded hypersonic weapon in the U.S. military (Defense Daily, Dec. 15).

The three latest ARRW captive carry tests follow an IMV test in August and “will obtain additional environmental data on the missile and its subsystems in response to those extreme conditions,” Lockheed Martin said. “The missile was built with tactical hardware and instrumented to collect thermal, mechanical and digital data from the flight vehicle through a telemetry stream and an on-board data recorder.”

The August test marked the first assembly of a tactical ARRW missile, the company said.

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.

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, rather than depending on basing rights or building new bases to launch strike aircraft, Roper said.