Air Force delays hypersonic missile program after flight test ‘anomalies’

The AGM-183 air-launched rapid response weapon (ARRW) was supposed to reach early operational capability, a major milestone in weapons testing and development, before October. But after a series of flight test failures last year, the Air Force has postponed the first test of the entire missile and booster to the next fiscal year, which begins in October. More tests will follow later in the year, the Air Force said.

“The ARRW production decision remains event-driven and will occur after operational utility is demonstrated through successful end-to-end flight testing of the system,” the Air Force said.

Military branches are developing different hypersonic systems as they examine various capabilities and needs. The Navy is developing its conventional fast-attack system, which shares a hypersonic glide vehicle with the Army’s long-range hypersonic weapon. The Air Force is testing ARRW and the hypersonic strike cruise missile, while working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on the hypersonic air-breathing weapon concept (HAWC) system. DARPA also has other hypersonic systems that it is developing.

CNN reported earlier this week that the US had successfully tested a HAWC missile, but kept quiet about the test so as not to exacerbate tensions with Russia. The test came days after Russia said it used its own Kinzhal hypersonic missile during its invasion of Ukraine.

The ARRW missile, built by Lockheed Martin, is designed to destroy “high-value, time-sensitive targets,” according to the Air Force. It is also supposed to allow the military to quickly attack a well-defended target on the ground.

The delay in the program, first reported by Bloomberg, comes as lawmakers have expressed growing frustration that the United States is falling behind adversaries such as China and Russia in developing hypersonic weapons.

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama warned that China has “more troops, more ships and more hypersonic missiles than the United States,” while Republican Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio said that the defense industrial base needs to “accelerate” it in hypersonic development.

While some programs like HAWC have had successful testing, others like ARRW have had repeated problems in testing, leading to delays in the development of these complex and technically challenging systems.

The HAWC and ARRW missiles are similar technologies (hypersonic air-launched, air-breathing weapons), but the Air Force’s priority has been the ARRW, which has received a much larger budget with a goal of a deployable prototype in the next fiscal year. . But the delay will force the Air Force to devote more of its research and development budget to ARRW to complete flight tests, as the timeline remains in question.

“This realignment of funds allows the Air Force to review an acquisition decision in FY24 once specific programmatic milestones have been achieved,” the Air Force said.

In the FY23 defense budget, the Biden administration requested $7.2 billion for long-range fires, including hypersonic missiles. In a report last year, the Government Accountability Office identified 70 efforts related to hypersonic weapons, expected to cost nearly $15 billion between 2015 and 2024.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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