The US Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) plans to externally equip the B-1 Lancer bomber with hypersonic AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon.
AFGSC chief Gen. Timothy Ray said he sees a conventional version of the Long-Range Stand-Off weapon as a sensible approach to replacing the conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCMS), in the case that a JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile) ER replacement was necessary.
The AGM-183A ARRW is a hypersonic strike weapon being developed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Air Force (USAF). The weapon is a boost-glide hypersonic system and consists of a rocket booster and hypersonic glider warhead.
After being launched from an aircraft, the booster rocket accelerates to high speeds before releasing the hypersonic glide warhead payload which then glides unpowered to its target at hypersonic speeds up to Mach 20.
It has reportedly successfully passed several tests, and, so far, there’s only been photographs of it mounted to a B-52 Stratofortress, or not to anything.
General Timothy Ray said that it was his plan to refurbish the B-1 Lancer bombers, including a modification that would open up eight external hardpoints on the bomber’s fuselage that were originally planned to carry two ALCMS each.
“My goal would be to bring on at least a squadron’s worth of airplanes modified with external pylons on the B-1, to carry the ARRW hypersonic cruise missile,” Ray said. A B-1 squadron typically has 18 aircraft.
Some airplanes “will need significant structural work,” Ray said. “We can do smart things, and we’ve got support from Congress to do this. This is a thing that we’re working to get ourselves through. We’ve had a very good dialog.”
Modifying the B-1s to carry the ARRW was not an item requested in the fiscal 2021 budget, Ray said, but it’s “a project we’re working on. There are several versions that we could contemplate, but we believe the easiest, fastest, and probably most effective in the short term will be to go with the external pylons.”
The ARRW, he said, is “a good weapon airframe and configuration match to get us quickly into that game.”
Ray further said that the ARRW is what the AFGSC would commit to, since their carriage capability is good for it.
The Air Force is also working on the Hypersonic Air-breathing weapon Concept, or HAWC, with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
In addition to the B-1 Lancers, the B-52s would also be reconfigured to carry hypersonic weapons, according to Ray. Which is not surprising, since a B-52 is being used to test the ARRW.
Using the external hardpoints and the CSRL, a B-1 could conceivably carry 31 hypersonic missiles.
“The bomber world has been very good about combining and integrating operational and developmental test and leveraging the number of resources. And this was a conversation with [AFMC] … that we came to this solution set.”
Ray said AFGSC has not set a requirement for a conventional version of LRSO (Long-range Stand-off Weapon) to mirror the ALCM/Conventional ALCM USAF has operated for the last 30 years, but that it could potentially happen in the future.
“First things first: the ALCM is aging out on us,” and must be replaced, he said. But, “I’ve shot CALCM in anger…the utility of those is unquestionable.” He’s pleased with how LRSO is progressing—“I think that’s going to be a very, very good missile”—and if there was a sudden requirement for “an even longer-ranged cruise missile with conventional capability,” LRSO would be the place to start. However, Ray noted that changes to the program have to happen “within a treaty context.”
“Right now, we’re not asking for that, based on the prioritization of the nuclear piece, … but there’s things that could change in the future.”
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