Fourth time the charm: US conducts first successful ARRW hypersonic weapon test

Article written by Valius Venckūnas and Clément Charpentreau.

The U.S. Air Force completed the first successful test of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), the branch announced.

According to the press release, the hypersonic missile was released from a B-52H strategic bomber off South California coast on May 14, 2022.

“The team’s tenacity, expertise, and commitment were key in overcoming the past year’s challenges to get us to the recent success,” Heath Collins, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons, is quoted saying in the release.“We are ready to build on what we’ve learned and continue moving hypersonics forward.”According to the USAF, the weapon separated and the booster burned for “expected duration” during the test, achieving five times the speed of sound (Mach 5).

This is the fourth test for this missile, and the first successful one. After finishing a series of captive tests in 2022, the USAF planned to start flight tests in April 2021. The first test was unsuccessful, as the missile failed to detach from the carrier aircraft.

The second test in July 2021 ended in failure as well, as the missile’s booster failed to start. In December 2021, the missile did not separate from the aircraft again.

AGM-183 ARRW is a boost glide weapon, meaning that once the booster helps the warhead to reach its cruise speed, the warhead detaches and starts maneuvering towards the target, avoiding countermeasures.

Expected to eventually fly at the speeds of up to Mach 20, ARRW was designed to be carried by the F-15EX fighter jet as well as the USAF strategic bombers, greatly expanding their offensive capability.

The ARRW is one of the two USAF programs currently developing a hypersonic platform. The other, called HAWC (for Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept), is a scramjet-powered missile that can reach a speed between Mach 6 and Mach 10. And so far, it has had more success. Two prototypes, one developed by Lockheed Martin and the other by Raytheon, were successfully launched during live testing in September 2021 and April 2022 respectively.

Hypersonic technology has become a priority of the United States military with the emergence of similar weapons in the arsenals of other world powers, such as Russia and China. On May 11, 2022, the US Missile Defense Agency said it was “to develop and deploy a layered missile defense system to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies and friends from missile attacks in all phases of flight,” with an emphasis on countering hypersonic platforms.

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