US Air Force's First Hypersonic Missile Test Attempt Fails, Again

The ambitious hypersonic missile program is failing to fire; will the third time be the charm?
Ameya Paleja
Artwork for the hypersonic missile from Lockheed MartinLockheed Martin

In a second attempt to test the US Air Force's hypersonic missile program, the rocket booster motor did not ignite, causing hesitation, explains a press release. This is likely to set the program, initially aimed for 2020, further back. 

Called Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), the hypersonic missile program consists of a missile that is carried by a B-52 bomber, which then separates and is fired by its own rocket booster. The rocket fires the warhead to a hypersonic speed (Mach 5 and above) after which it separates and the warhead moves towards the target while retaining capacities of maneuvering.  

Earlier in April, during the first test, the missile failed to separate from the bomber leading to an abrupt halt to the test process. The second test, conducted at Edwards Air Force Base in California, on July 28, was a minor improvement from the first one but not the way the Air Force would have liked it to end.

As stated in the press release, the objectives of the second test were the safe release of the booster from the bomber and assessing its performance. The warhead on the hypersonic missile was successfully tested earlier this month and not part of this trial. 

During the trial over Point Mugu Sea Range, the booster successfully separated from the bomber following all points of the release sequence including GPS acquisition, disconnection, and power transfer to the missile. The fins of the booster also sprung to action and performed de-confliction maneuvers that ensure that the missile does not inflict harm on the bomber. 

The next step in the test process was the ignition of the booster that would take the missile to its hypersonic speed. However, the booster rocket failed to ignite.  Given, it is a defense project, the Air Force did not reveal any causes of the failure. However, it remained committed to the rapid development of the weapon. 

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Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Executive Officer for the Weapons Program said, "Developing first-of-its-kind missiles is a difficult business, and this is why we test.  We have the very best team working to figure out what happened, fix it and move out to deliver ARRW to our warfighters as quickly as possible." 

 The hypersonic missile program, slated for deployment in 2020, will cost the US taxpayer about $3.8 billion in 2022 alone. There is added pressure now that Russia has demonstrated its capabilities in this space with its Tsirkon missile

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