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The United States’ hopes for a hypersonic missile came across another hurdle.
On July 28th, the second booster flight test of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) resulted in failure.
The missile was shot over Point Mugu Sea Range near southern California, and its engine failed to ignite after it was launched out of a B-52 bomber.
The missile cleanly separated from the aircraft and successfully demonstrated the full release sequence including GPS acquisition, umbilical disconnect and power transfer from the aircraft to the missile. The missile also demonstrated fin operation and de-confliction maneuvers which ensures a safe operation for the aircrew.
Afterward, the rocket booster was supposed to ignite, accelerating the missile to Mach 5 speeds, but it failed to do so. The missile presumably fell into the Pacific Ocean.
Still, program officials have been unable to identify what went wrong during the test or how to fix it.
Not all is lost, and the US Air Forces hopes to push through the issues and conclude flight testing and begin production of the new, cutting-edge weapon by the end of fiscal 2022.
Additionally, the Air Force still needs to successfully complete flight testing of the ARRW booster and all-up round before the service awards a contract to manufacturer Lockheed Martin and begins production of the weapon, which is currently targeted for FY22, Collins said.
Any lengthy redesign of the missile could lead to delays.
In the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, the Air Force requested $161 million to procure the first 12 AGM-183As, which would become the military’s first hypersonic weapon available for operations.
However, these failures and the justifiably low expectations have resulted in the House Appropriations Committee decreasing spending on the program by $44 million. The purpose is so that the weapon isn’t rushed before all technical issues are fixed.
It appears that lessons from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program have been learned.
Any rapid prototyping effort of a new hypersonic weapon would be a “risky program” by nature, but the ARRW effort is making progress on resolving technical problems, according to US official claims.
The AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) is a conventional hypersonic weapon. Generally, they’re designed to catch fleeting targets, like a missile launcher or a surface-to-air missile radar, before they safely redeploy.
Hypersonic weapons can also overwhelm air defenses by traveling faster and higher than existing defenses can intercept.
The US Air Force envisions the ARRW as an incredibly powerful “checkmate” weapon. A single B-1B bomber can carry as many as 31 ARRWs, targeting enemy air bases, radar sites, and air defense missiles. So, an air strike involving just a third of the Air Force’s 45 B-1B bombers could theoretically deliver as many as 465 hypersonic weapons at once.
If only they could make just one single missile hit its target, first.