US Air Force launches first combat hypersonic missile

The United States Air Force (USAF) has successfully tested its first prototype hypersonic missile.

The new AGM-183A Airborne Rapid Reaction Weapon, or ARRW (“Arrow”), is expected to be the first US military hypersonic weapon to reach operational status. The exact speed of the AGM-183A is not known, although the weapons developed by Lockheed Martin are said to be based on previous test vehicles built by DARPA. (will open in a new tab) which have a claimed top speed of Mach 20 or 15,000 mph (24,000 km/h).

A successful ARRW test was conducted on Friday (December 9) at a test site off the coast of California, according to a US Air Force statement. (will open in a new tab) released on Monday (December 12). “This test was the first launch of a full-fledged combat prototype missile,” officials said in a statement. “After separating the ARRW from the aircraft, it reached hypersonic speeds of more than five times the speed of sound, completed its flight path and exploded in the terminal area. The readings show that all goals have been achieved.”

On the subject: DARPA’s Glide Breaker hypersonic interceptor program enters a new phase

“The ARRW team has successfully designed and tested an air-launched hypersonic missile in five years,” said Brig. Gene. Jason Bartolomei, executive director of the Ordnance Department program, said in a statement to the US Air Force. “I am immensely proud of the tenacity and dedication of this team, which has demonstrated vital capabilities for our fighter.”

According to the US Air Force, the missile is designed to “hold immobile, high-value, time-sensitive, threatened targets in contested environments,” meaning it will be used to engage predetermined targets on the ground, such as fixed missile positions. , radar stations, air defense installations, infrastructure facilities or even enemy headquarters buildings – in general, everything that is important in the conditions of the battlefield that cannot be moved and must be quickly destroyed.

Flight tests of the AGM-183A have been underway since April 2021, but a series of failed tests that failed to fire the booster cast doubt on the program. “You obviously wouldn’t buy something that doesn’t work,” the Air Force’s July 2022 acquisition of the program says, according to Breaking Defense. (will open in a new tab).

Now that the ARRW has successfully flown, it is likely that the service may reconsider its plans to phase out its planned AGM-183A purchases.

Crew members of the 912th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron guard an AGM-183A 2 airborne rapid response vehicle as it is loaded under the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress during hypersonic testing, Edwards Air Force Base, California, in August. . 6, 2020. (Image credit: USAF/Giancarlo Casem)

While the Department of Defense does not normally announce these tests in advance, aerial monitors in Southern California last week spotted a B-52H carrying an AGM-183A approaching the test site.

To learn more

The AGM-183A is what is known as a rocket glide vehicle, which refers to warheads or projectiles that glide towards their targets after being lifted by a rocket booster. Prior to release, the ARRW is carried under the wing of an aircraft such as the B-52H bomber that lifted it for this test flight. The solid booster then fires up, raising the rocket to a certain height and speed before its payload fairings open and release the wedge-shaped glider inside.

An illustration of the separation of the AGM-183A from the launch vehicle. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

These gliders do not fall in predictable arcing trajectories like ballistic missiles; instead, they glide towards their unpowered targets on a flatter trajectory and can perform sharp maneuvers in flight.

This ability, along with their extreme speed, makes this class of weapon very difficult to detect, track, and destroy with modern air defense systems. To that end, the Department of Defense is also developing new interceptor classes to help counter the growing hypersonic threat around the world.

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