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Hypersonic AGM-183A ARRW fired in the Pacific

The US Air Force successfully conducted a test of the Lockheed Martin AGM-183A ARRW (Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon), a hypersonic missile, which was launched for the first time in the Pacific Ocean.

On Tuesday, March 19th, the defense industry portal The War Zone reported that earlier in the week, the US Air Force (USAF) conducted a successful test of the Lockheed Martin AGM-183A ARRW (Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon), a hypersonic missile, which was launched for the first time from the vicinity of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. The missile was carried by the Boeing B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber.

Image: Lockheed Martin

The spokesperson for the USAF said in a statement to The War Zone that the B-52H Stratofortress conducted a test of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon. During the test, a fully functional prototype of the hypersonic missile was launched, focusing on the comprehensive performance of the ARRW. The test took place at the Ronald Reagan Test Site (Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site; on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands archipelago), and the B-52 took off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on March 17, 2024, local time.

This matches the NOTAM announcement with a warning for air navigation in the vicinity of the Kwajalein Atoll on March 17-18. It is also known that the test was to involve a B-52H from the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron of the USAF. Spotters also observed the Gulfstream HALO high altitude observatory aircraft in the area, which had previously supported ARRW tests as well.

“The Air Force gained valuable insights into the capabilities of this new, cutting-edge technology. While we won’t discuss specific test objectives, this test acquired valuable, unique data and was intended to further a range of hypersonic programs. We also validated and improved our test and evaluation capabilities for continued development of advanced hypersonic systems,” the spokesperson said.

The first mentions of preparations for the test appeared with the publication of a photograph on February 27 of this year showing a training missile mounted on a B-52H at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Interestingly, one of the published photographs at that time displayed the serial number of the missile: AR-AUR-005.

ARRW Tests

Despite the success, the future of the ARRW program itself is uncertain. On March 29, 2023, the Assistant Secretary of the USAF for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Andrew P. Hunter informed members of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee that it had been canceled, but additional tests are expected.

There is also a lack of funding for this program in last week’s budget request from the USAF Department to the federal NDAA budget act for fiscal year 2025. The final flight test of the AGM-183A prototype is scheduled for the second half of 2024.

This is due to a series of flight test failures. The previous full test (All-Up-Round) on March 13, 2023, was unsuccessful, unlike the first one on December 9, 2022. Successful tests were also conducted with the rocket booster on July 13 and May 14, 2022, but earlier, due to failures during tests on April 5, July 29, and December 17, 2021, the program was delayed by approximately 11 months. Nevertheless, the program saw success with the warhead fragmentation test on July 7, 2021, and a successful simulated target attack during Exercise Northern Edge in early May 2021.

The development and testing of the system are managed by the Air Force Test Center (AFTC), the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), the ARRW program office within the Department of Defense, and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control – the primary designer and manufacturer of the missile under a baseline contract worth $480 million, dated August 13, 2018.

The AGM-183A ARRW carries a hypersonic glide vehicle with a conventional warhead at speeds ranging from Mach 6.5 to Mach 8, covering a distance estimated by experts to be at least 1000 miles (1609 km) in a time span of 10-12 minutes.

If not ARRW, then what?

The USAF aims to focus on the development program of a hypersonic cruise missile known as HACM (Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile). On September 23, 2022, proposals from Northrop Grumman Corporation and Raytheon Missile & Defense were selected. The HACM project involves the development of a missile powered by a scramjet engine, allowing for sustained flight at hypersonic speeds, i.e., above Mach 5. The USAF aims for operational readiness by 2027.


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