US Air Force launches 1st operational hypersonic missile
The United States Air Force (USAF) has successfully tested its first hypersonic missile prototype.
The service’s new AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW (“Arrow”) is expected to be in the United States militaryis the first hypersonic weapon to achieve operational status. The exact speed of the AGM-183A is not known, although the weapon designed by Lockheed Martin is based on Previous test vehicles built by DARPA (opens in a new tab) which have an alleged top speed of Mach 20, or 15,000 mph (24,000 km/h).
The successful ARRW test was conducted on Friday, Dec. 9 at a training range off the California coast, according to a USAF Statement (opens in a new tab) published on Monday (December 12). “This test was the first launch of a fully operational missile prototype,” officials wrote in the statement. “After the ARRW separated from the aircraft, it reached hypersonic speeds in excess of five times the speed of sound, completed its flight path, and exploded in the terminal area. Indications show that all targets have been achieved.”
Related: DARPA’s “Glide Breaker” Hypersonic Missile Interceptor Program Enters New Phase
“The ARRW team has successfully designed and tested a hypersonic air-launched missile in five years,” said Brig. Gen. Jason Bartolomei, executive director of the Armaments Directorate program, said in the USAF statement. “I am immensely proud of the tenacity and dedication this team has shown to provide a vital capability for our fighter.”
According to the US Air Force, the missile is designed to “detain stationary, high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments”, meaning it will be used to target predetermined ground assets such than fixed missile sites. , radar stations, air defense installations, infrastructure or even adversary headquarters buildings – basically anything important in a battlefield environment that cannot be moved and must be destroyed quickly.
The AGM-183A has been undergoing flight testing since April 2021, but a series of unsuccessful tests in which the missile’s booster failed to fire has cast some doubts on the program. “You obviously wouldn’t buy something that didn’t work,” the Air Force acquisition said of the program in July 2022, according to Breaking Defense (opens in a new tab).
Now that the ARRW has flown successfully, it’s likely the service could reassess its plans to drop planned purchases of the AGM-183A.
Although the Department of Defense does not usually announce such tests in advance, aircraft spotters in Southern California spotted a B-52H aircraft carrying the AGM-183A to its test range last week. .
Watch out for Socal observers! The B-52 (“Tagboard Flyer”?) headed southwest a few minutes ago with what looks like a white ARRW on the left pylon! pic.twitter.com/HNovL7Y1bfDecember 9, 2022
The AGM-183A is what is called a boost-glide vehicle, which refers to warheads or projectiles that glide towards their targets after being thrown by a rocket booster. The ARRW is carried under the wing of an aircraft, like the B-52H bomber that launched it for this test flight, before it is jettisoned. A solid rocket booster then ignites, lifting the missile to a specific altitude and speed before its payload fairings open and release the wedge-shaped boost-glide vehicle inside.
These boost-glide vehicles then do not fall along predictable arc-shaped trajectories like ballistic missiles; instead, they glide towards their targets unpowered along a flatter trajectory and are capable of executing sudden maneuvers in flight.
This capability, along with their extreme speeds, make this class of weapons very difficult to detect, track, and defeat with current air defense systems. To this end, the Ministry of Defense is also developing new classes of interceptors to help counter the growing hypersonic threat worldwide.
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