The US Air Force (USAF) confirms it successfully completed another test of a Lockheed Martin air-launched hypersonic weapon.
The test of the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) booster system occurred off the coast of Southern California on 12 July, the USAF said the following day.
“The test successfully demonstrated booster performance, expanding the operational envelope,” says USAF Brigadier General Heath Collins, programme executive officer for armaments. “We have now completed our booster test series and are ready to move forward to all-up-round testing later this year,” he adds.
The milestone on 12 July follows another ARRW test in May that was also successful. That event snapped a string of failures that plagued US efforts to develop hypersonic technology.
The service has not disclosed specifics about the 12 July flight. During the May test, the USAF released an experimental ARRW from a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress in flight. Once clear of the B-52, that test weapon’s booster fired.
The ARRW, officially known as the AGM-183A, is an air-launched system designed for precision strikes against heavily-defended land targets. The weapon will leave fixed, high-value and time-sensitive targets in contested environments at risk of attack from long ranges, according to the USAF.
Developed by Lockheed, the munition is capable of achieving speeds greater than Mach 5.
“This successful test underscores our shared commitment to develop and field hypersonic weapons on accelerated timelines to meet critical national security needs,” Jay Pitman, vice-president of air dominance and strike weapons at Lockheed, said on 13 July.
The ARRW was first tested in 2019. At the time, the USAF said it hoped to bring a hypersonic weapon to initial operating capability by 2022. After a string of technical setbacks for the programme in 2021, the USAF began shifting resources toward an alternative – a hypersonic cruise missile known as the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM).
The USAF’s recent budget request for fiscal year 2023 shows funding for the ARRW cut by more than half compared to the previous year, and zeroed out after FY2023.
By contrast, funding for the HACM is projected out to FY2027. Both systems are listed under the umbrella programme of Hypersonics Prototyping.
A third design, known as the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), is being developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
That agency announced a successful test of the scramjet engine-powered hypersonic vehicle in April.
The USA joins a growing number of countries claiming successful tests of hypersonic weapons, including Russia, China and North Korea. Russia is the first nation to claim use of a hypersonic weapon in combat, saying it fired several at targets in Ukraine during its ongoing war in that country.
America’s top military officer, US Army General Mark Milley, downplayed the impact of those weapons during recent congressional testimony, saying the hypersonic weapons had no “significant or game changing effect” on the course of the Ukraine war.
By contrast, in October 2021, Milley described a Chinese test of a hypersonic weapon as “very concerning”, likening it to the Soviet Union’s surprise launch of the Sputnik satellite that launched the Cold War-era space race.