US Air Force tests its hypersonic missile and it's five times greater than the speed of sound

Third time is indeed a charm.
Ameya Paleja
A Boeing B-52H Stratofortress in flight over the Persian Gulf.Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Air Force has successfully completed the test of its AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon or ARRW on May 14, the military outfit said in a press release

Hypersonic weapons are the next frontier of warfare. Capable of traveling at speeds greater than five times that of sound, these missiles can cause much havoc. Last July, Russia claimed that it had successfully tested its hypersonic missile, Tsirkon, in a matter of just two years after it was announced.

Earlier this year, North Korea, too, announced the successful demonstration of a hypersonic gliding warhead. During the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Russia claimed to have used them. While these claims are hard to verify, the U.S. military's efforts have been lagging behind its adversaries in this domain, and work has been afoot to set this straight. 

Bogged by previous test failures

The Air Force's Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon or ARRW is designed "to enable the U.S. to hold fixed, high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments from stand-off distances," the press release said. The weapon is also aimed to expand the precision-strike capabilities of the Air Force by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets. 

Developed by Lockheed Martin, the AGM-183A, or ARRW as it is commonly called, was first tested in April last year but failed to separate from the wing of the B-52H aircraft that was carrying the weapon. 

The weapon was tested again in July, later that year, the separation was successful, and while the weapon even engaged its fins to engage to perform a de-confliction maneuver to avoid harming the bomber carrying it, the booster failed to ignite

So, when the B-52H Stratofortress took to the skies off the South Californian coast on May 14, it must have been quite unnerving to know how the test would pan out. However, following the separation of the weapon from the aircraft, the booster ignited and burned for the expected duration, reaching hypersonic speeds, five times the speed of sound (Mach 5), the press release said. 

"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,"  Lt. Col. Michael Jungquist, commander of the 419th Flight Test Squadron that executed the test. 

Uncertain future

The successful test comes in the backdrop of huge uncertainty over the weapon though.  The Fiscal Budget request for 2023 has listed the ARRW program for reassessment, The Drive reported

While the Budget Request lists a procurement of one AGM-183A at the cost of $46.6 million, the Air Force has clarified that it would be a prototype for continued research and development use and not as part of operational capability. 

The Air Force wants ARRW to prove itself, especially after DARPA successfully tested an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile last year. 

The U.S. military might have a problem of too many soon. Guess that's not a bad problem to have. 

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