The U.S. Air Force successfully tested a hypersonic missile that travelled five times the speed of sound off the Southern California coast May 14, following tests of similar weapons by China and Russia.
The AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) was launched from a B-52H Stratofortress bomber by 419th Flight Test Squadron and the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force, both at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s program executive officer for weapons, said in a May 16 release the launch was a major accomplishment for the hypersonic weapons team and the force.
“The team’s tenacity, expertise, and commitment were key in overcoming the past year’s challenges to get us to the recent success. We are ready to build on what we’ve learned and continue moving hypersonics forward,” Heath said.
Lt. Col. Michael Jungquist, 419th FLTS commander and GPB CTF director, said the test was executed flawlessly.
“Our highly-skilled team made history on this first air-launched hypersonic weapon. We’re doing everything we can to get this game-changing weapon to the warfighter as soon as possible,” Jungquist said.
Hypersonic weapons, unlike conventional missiles, are maneuverable, and thus can evade traditional U.S. weapons detection systems.
The ARRW hypersonic weapon, designed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Air Force, expands the United States’ ability to hold fixed, high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments from stand-off distances. This includes enemy military bases and surface warships.
It also bolsters the Force’s ability to carry out precision strikes by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets.
Early operational capability of the missile is planned to be achieved in September 2022.
Gillian Bussey, director of the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office at the Department of Defense, in February said the Chinese regime was developing and deploying hypersonic technology at a scale and pace that causes concern.
“They have glide vehicles with scramjets. They have glide vehicles with liquid rocket, solid rocket, propulsion. There’s a whole host of propulsion systems that they’re working on,” she said at a Feb. 8 event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In April, China’s navy revealed a previously unknown test of a new hypersonic missile launched from a Type 055 cruiser at sea. That launch took place ahead of the 73rd anniversary of the Chinese navy, and just before talks between U.S. and Chinese defense leaders.
The missile depicted in videos that circulated on social media was likely China’s YJ-21, also called the Eagle Strike 21, which is believed to have a maximum range of some 620 miles.
While the characteristics of the missile are unknown, as no official launches have been documented, analysis by NavalNews suggested that the missile was a cold-launched ballistic anti-ship missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle.
The U.S. ARRW was launched from a B-52H Stratofortress bomber, which has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,800 miles. The use of aerial refueling gives the B-52 a range limited only by aircrew endurance, the Air Force states on its website.
Two bombers can monitor 140,000 square miles of ocean surface in two hours and are capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet.
That test of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept reached altitudes greater than 65,000 feet and flew for more than 300 miles, according to DARPA’s release.