US Air Force successfully flies hypersonic missile on fourth attempt
It was fourth time's the charm as the US Air Force successfully launched its hypersonic AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) from a B-52H Stratofortress on May 14, 2022, off the coast of Southern California, following three failures.
The war in Ukraine and the general increase in international tensions has put the arms race to field practical hypersonic missiles into high gear, especially in the United States, which previously concentrated more on research than deployment.
This is hardly surprising because hypersonic weapons are a game changer that would alter warfare in ways not seen since the development of supersonic technology after the Second World War. Defined as being able to fly in excess of Mach 5, hypersonic weapons that can be deployed at long standoff distances, are able to fly at lower altitudes, and maneuver in flight would be much harder to detect, intercept, or counter than current missiles.
The problem is that, even after over six decades of research, hypersonic flight poses huge technological hurdles before it becomes practical. The AGM-183A, for example, is rated to have a top speed of Mach 20, which means it would be subjected to extremely high temperatures and acceleration pressures that require new materials, sensors, and electronics, as well as intelligent avionics that can respond quickly in a hostile environment.
In the most recent tests, which were carried out by the 419th Flight Test Squadron, the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force, and Lockheed Martin, involved dropping the missile from the wing of the B-52. The booster rocket then ignited and accelerated the missile glider body to above Mach 5. However, the top speed, altitude, and other performance results weren't released.
More booster and full flight tests are scheduled for this year, with Early Operational Capability (EOC) aimed for 2023. When fully deployed, the AGM-183A can be carried by not only the B-52, but also smaller warplanes like the F-15 fighter jet.
"This was a major accomplishment by the ARRW team, for the weapons enterprise, and our Air Force," said Brigadier General Heath Collins, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons. "The team's tenacity, expertise, and commitment were key in overcoming the past year's challenges to get us to the recent success. We are ready to build on what we've learned and continue moving hypersonics forward."