A few days after Russia successfully conducted another test-firing of the hypersonic Zircon cruise missile, the US Air Force has offered a sneak peek into its first hypersonic missile.
Lockheed Martin’s AGM-183A, Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) took a test flight in August on B-52 Stratofortress out of Edwards Air Force Base.
“This captive carry flight was conducted with tactical hardware and fully instrumented to collect thermal, mechanical and digital data from the flight vehicle. This is the first time a tactical ARRW missile has been assembled. Additional ground and flight testing will follow over the next two years,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement.
New details have now been revealed about the missile with Air Force Major General Andrew Gebara touting the ARRW as “amazing”.
He confirmed that the ARRW is capable of hypersonic speed. “This thing is going to be able to go, in 10-12 minutes, almost 1,000 miles,” Gebara told Air Force Magazine. “It’s amazing.”
However, it is unclear whether Gebara was talking about the average speed or the top speed of the hypersonic missile.
Hypersonic missiles provide accuracy and lethality by striking the adversary within minutes. While the ARRW was tested by mounting the missile on the B-52 bomber, the US Air Force is also considering the B-1 Lancer bomber as another delivery aircraft, reported the Newsweek.
“Regardless of which platform carries the ARRW, it’s clear that it will provide the Air Force with a significantly enhanced short or no-notice strike capability, especially against time-critical or otherwise high-value and highly defended targets — providing the next phase of test work proves successful,” Thomas Newdick of The Drive noted.
The ARRW is expected to be the first operational hypersonic missile in the US military. To attain the hypersonic speed, that is beyond 5 Mach, the missile has a solid-fuel rocket booster along with an unpowered boost-glide vehicle. The rocket booster propels to reach the desired speed and the boost-glide vehicle approaches the target.
“The new weapon system will consist of four transporter erector launchers (TEL), each installed on a modified M870 40-ton trailer, and command posts. Each TEL will have two canisterized hypersonic weapons at the ready and the unit will have an unspecified number of additional missiles on hand,” a report from Defence Blog stated.
Reportedly, the program has been running behind schedule with about 40 percent increase in the price. The Air Force plans to buy at least eight prototypes ARRWs, some of which could potentially be used to field a limited operational arsenal of these weapons in the coming years, reported The Drive.
The US military is vying to catch up with Russia and China who are ahead in the race for hypersonic missiles. Reportedly, the Russian Navy recently test-fired its Zircon cruise missile which is capable of achieving speeds of Mach 8.
It is a surface-to-surface cruise missile in production, and the only one to be in the final stages of formal induction. Primarily designed as an anti-ship missile. Incidentally, the news of the test-fire coincided with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 68th birthday.