The Pentagon has tasked defense contractors with the creation of half-dozen different hypersonic weapons systems for the Army, Navy and Air Force, but none are operational yet. The first US hypersonic weapon – the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), is set to be fielded by the Army in late 2023.
The US Air Force has carried out another successful test of the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) – a boost-glide vehicle-based weapons system with a 1,600 km range and a maximum flight speed of up to Mach 20.
In a statement put out Monday, the Air Force indicated that the test, held off the coast of Southern California on December 9, was “the first launch of a full prototype operational missile.”
“Previous test events focused on proving the booster performance. Following the ARRW’s separation from the aircraft, it reached hypersonic speeds greater than five times the speed of sound, completed its flight path and detonated in the terminal area. Indications show that all objectives were met,” the Air Force said.
Air Force armament directorate program executive officer Brig. Gen. Jason Bartolomei praised the ARRW team for its efforts in creating the hypersonic missile system over a five year period, expressing pride over “the tenacity and dedication this team has shown to provide a vital capacity to our warfighter.”
The December 9 test was carried out by a B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber attached to the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base.
The previous successful test of the ARRW took place on May 14.
Before that, testing of the weapons system, being developed by US weapons giant Lockheed Martin, suffered three failures in a row, leading to delays in the production of a combat-ready variant which was supposed to start in September.
Along with the B-52H, the ARRW is designed to be deployed aboard B-1 Lancer strategic bombers, and, possibly, by F-15 multirole strike fighters. The Pentagon froze plans to order the weapon, formally classified as the AGM-183 ARRW, in January amid the string of test failures.
The ARRW is one of half-a-dozen hypersonic weapons systems being created by contractors such as Lockheed for the US military. After years of development work, the Army announced last year that it would be the first branch of the military to begin fielding hypersonic weapons after taking delivery of the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), a ground-launched boost-glide missile system, by the end of fiscal year 2023. The LRHW is also being developed by Lockheed.
The system is set to face two more tests before deployment, with a test of the system’s glide body ending in failure in June.
Notwithstanding the US’s outsized military spending, which continues to exceed that of all of its major possible adversaries combined, Washington somehow fell behind Russia and China in the field of hypersonics, with the Russian military taking delivery of its first hypersonic weapons system, the Kinzhal missile, in late 2017, and China deploying its DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle in 2019.