The US has fallen behind the hypersonic weapons race. Russia and China are quickly developing and fielding hypersonic missiles while the US suffers testing setbacks.
Bloomberg reports defense manufacturer Lockheed-Martin’s ARRW (Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon) planned for use by the US Air Force has suffered three consecutive failed tests, while both Russia (see: here) and China (see: here) have completed successful tests.
The three failures so far have occurred during limited exercises focused on demonstrating the performance of the missile’s booster motor after separating from the bomber but without the hardened glide-body warhead of an operational missile. -Bloomberg
ARRW’s latest hurdle will be two upcoming ground-based tests of its booster motor by June 30. If successful, a fully operational hypersonic missile could be approved for initial production by Sept. 30. Before production, the service must complete a review of Lockheed-Martin’s ability to manufacture and deliver the new weapons.
The Air Force has yet to release costs related to the ARRW program, but figures suggest the development phase could be around $1.4 billion. Fielding of these weapons that travel multiple times faster than the sound of speed and have unpredictable flight paths makes them harder to shoot down, are being rushed as turmoil in Ukraine flares up.
ARRW is to be air-launched from the wing of a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber and propelled by a booster motor before the solid glide body, or warhead, flies at hypersonic speeds to its target.
A spokesperson for Heidi Shyu, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for research and engineering, said she’s “supportive of the Air Force’s aggressive efforts to accelerate development,” but “the Sept. 30 operational capability date is a very aggressive schedule.”
Kelley Sayler, an analyst in advanced technology, said the combat-ready date by the end of September “leaves little to no room for test delays or additional flight failures, and so it will likely be challenging.”
Cristina Vite, a spokesman for Lockheed, said with each missile test, there “continues to gain significant technical maturity while accomplishing many first-time milestones.”
While there are still technical and engineering challenges surrounding ARRW’s development ahead of being combat-ready, the US is lagging behind its international competitors in the procurement of hypersonic weapons.