US Air Force seeks to extend winning streak in hypersonic weapon tests

A B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 419th Flight Test Squadron is prepared to conduct flight test of the hypersonic AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon at Edwards Air Force Base, California, Aug. 8, 2020. (Giancarlo Casem/Air Force)

An artist’s rendering of Lockheed’s AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon. (Lockheed Martin)

The Air Force wants ARRW to reach early operational capability in 2023, and Shappacher noted that meeting that target will be a challenge.

“We have more missiles to build and more flight tests to get through and complete than we’ve had at any other time in this program, with the goal of reaching early operational capability in 2023,” he said. “There’s just a lot going on. It’s an extremely aggressive schedule. So, you know, that keeps me up at night, just making sure we can meet all of those commitments.”

‘Riding two horses’ in hypersonic development

The Air Force is pursuing two major hypersonic weapon programs: ARRW and the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile. ARRW is an air-launched, boost-glide missile system that releases its payload once it has reached high speeds. That payload then separates from the rocket and “glides” to its target. HACM is a smaller, less expensive cruise missile that relies on air-breathing propulsion. The service requested a total of $577 million for its hypersonic research and development efforts in fiscal 2023.

On HACM, Lockheed is competing with Raytheon and Boeing, the second and third ranked companies on the Defense News list. Breaking Defense reported in May the Air Force expects to award a contract for HACM later this summer or in the fall.

The Air Force hasn’t said how long it plans to continue to fund both programs, and Richardson said that by “riding two horses” in terms of hypersonic development, the service has set itself up for a dilemma should it need to select a single effort for future investment.

“I actually like them both, personally,” he said. “We may have to get to this position where we have to choose one or the other. That remains to be seen. I’m not in a position to answer how that’s going to come out.”

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