US Air Force fails first ARRW hypersonic missile launch test

U.S. Air Force photo

The United States Air Force was unable to demonstrate its advancement in hypersonic weapons as the ARRW AGM-183A missile, due to be carrying out its first flight test on April 5, 2021, failed to launch.

The missile was fitted on a B-52H Stratofortress, which took off over the Point Mugu Sea Range in California, United States. The strategic bomber was to fire the booster test vehicle for the ARRW AGM-183A program. 

The test was supposed to demonstrate the safe release of the test vehicle, as well as evaluate the booster performance, and the various stages of separation of the hypersonic glider. The ARRW uses a boost-glide launch system: first, a rocket propels the weapon to hypersonic speed, before the payload glides to its target.

But for an unspecified reason, the test missile was not able to complete its launch sequence and remained on the aircraft. “While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead,” commented Heath Collins, Armament Directorate Program Executive Officer. “This is why we test.” The unlaunched test vehicle will be analyzed for defect and could be reused.

The Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) program developed by Lockheed Martin aims to provide a hypersonic weapon capability to the US Air Force. The missile is designed to travel at 6,000 miles per hour (9,656 kilometers per hour, or Mach 8). This would have been the first test launch of the booster after seven captive carriage missions for the ARRW program. The first flight, with an inactive ARRW prototype, dates back to June 2019.

Hypersonic weapons have become a priority of the United States military with the emergence of similar platforms in the arsenals of other world powers, such as the Russian Zircon and Kinzhal missiles or the Chinese DF-ZF. Both countries claimed their respective weapons reached initial operational capability.


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