Giancarlo Casem/US Army
- A US bomber recently launched a fully-operational hypersonic missile prototype, the Air Force said.
- The B-52H Stratofortress released the missile while flying off the California coast on Friday.
- Once the weapon was released, it traveled faster than five times the speed of sound before detonating on target.
A B-52H Stratofortress bomber launched a fully-operational air-launched hypersonic missile in a milestone weapon test for the US Air Force, the service said Monday. The successful test comes after repeated failures and setbacks for the program.
The aircraft released an all-up-round AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) while flying off the California coast on Friday, the Air Force said in a statement.
Once the missile was released from the B-52, it hit speeds faster than five times the speed of sound — a requirement for a weapon to technically be considered hypersonic, completed its journey along a set flight path, and detonated in a target area, the Air Force said. This test marked the first time that a fully-operational air-launched hypersonic missile prototype has been launched. Previous testing focused on rocket booster performance, with the first successful booster test occurring in May.
“The ARRW team successfully designed and tested an air-launched hypersonic missile in five years,” said Brig. Gen. Jason Bartolomei, Armament Directorate Program executive officer, in the statement. “I am immensely proud of the tenacity and dedication this team has shown to provide a vital capability to our warfighter.”
Weaponmaker Lockheed Martin said that “this latest successful flight test proves the Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW)’s design and demonstrates its capability at hypersonic speeds.”
According to the US military’s Office of the Director for Operational Test and Evaluation, the ARRW is a stand-off conventional hypersonic weapon that can be launched from a B-52 bomber and is “intended to attack high-value, time-sensitive, land-based targets.”
That same report, which focused on work in 2021, noted that while the program had carried out “developmental ground and flight tests demonstrating adequate interface integration with the B-52H aircraft,” it had “not yet demonstrated the required warfighting capability.”
The ARRW suffered three test failures in 2021 because of issues during the missile’s launch process, but it saw two successful booster tests this year.
Unlike ballistic missiles, which travel with set parabolic trajectories, hypersonic weapons are more maneuverable and create greater challenges for traditional air defenses. US hypersonic missile development — which the Pentagon requested nearly $4 billion for this year — has been a point of competition with Russia and China, which have made substantial progress on their respective programs.