Lockheed's ARRW hypersonic missile: Sometimes it flies, sometimes it just tries

US Air Force keeping mum on results of weekend test

A deal's a deal. Despite canning Lockheed Martin's hypersonic weapon program over repeat failures, the US Air Force is still flying planned tests of the platform – including one over the weekend that the Air Force isn't giving many details on.

The Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, is Lockheed's experimental hypersonic weapon, classified as missiles able to travel greater than Mach 5 while also being maneuverable. ARRW has had a checkered record of success, but the Air Force has been ready and willing to talk about its successes, like when it launched ARRW in December, flew it five times the speed of sound, and detonated it on target.

ARRW failed multiple times before its first successful flight in May 2022 - the first time the US tested a fully equipped hypersonic weapon - followed by the December evaluation.

The Air Force has been far less forthcoming when ARRW failed, like in March of this year when news of a botched flight was only confirmed by Congressional testimony from USAF Secretary Frank Kendall, who only said the test was "not a success."

Given the Air Force's similarly limited description of tests over the past weekend, it may be safe to assume it didn't go according to plan.

"A B-52H Stratofortress conducted a recent test of the All-Up-Round AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon," a USAF spokesperson told The Register.

"While we won't discuss specific test objectives, this test acquired valuable, unique data [that] also validated and improved our test and evaluation capabilities for continued development of advanced hypersonic systems," the Air Force spokesperson told us. The branch added that the test was focused on ARRW's end-to-end performance, and provided valuable new insights into the capabilities of hypersonic weapons.

Questions to the Air Force regarding the actual outcome of the test and the current status of the ARRW program went unanswered.

Catching up at hypersonic speeds

When the USAF said it was canning ARRW, the branch said it still intended to carry out tests on the two remaining ARRW prototypes in its inventory, one of which was fired this weekend. With news that ARRW was canceled and other projects have since been funded, it appears the USAF is slightly changing tack on its hypersonic designs.

Instead of focusing on large weapons like ARRW, which require a bomber-sized aircraft like the B-52H to launch, the Air Force is instead focusing on smaller hypersonics that can fit on fighter aircraft, Kendall said in March.

One design mentioned by Kendall was Raytheon's Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile, or HACM, which the USAF shelled out nearly $1 billion for late last year. As is the case with most hypersonic weapons, details on HACM's capabilities are unknown outside the fact that it's an air-breathing scramjet missile, as opposed to the ARRW's boost-glide style, and that the Air Force wants it operational by 2027.

As we've noted previously, the US seems to be lagging other countries on hypersonic technology, with China and Russia claiming to have both fielded the devices, and North Korea claiming to have tested its own as well.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico have proposed allowing private contractors access to its secure facility to spur hypersonic development, which the Department of Defense has fast-tracked with demands that Sandia gets a hypersonic glide body fielded in three years. ®

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