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

By Oren Liebermann, CNN

The Air Force has delayed its hypersonic missile program for up to a year after “recent flight test anomalies” pushed back the weapon’s completion schedule, according to an Army statement. the air.

The AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) was supposed to reach early operational capability, a milestone in weapons testing and development, before October. But following a series of flight test failures last year, the Air Force has postponed the first test of the full missile and booster until sometime next year. tax, which begins in October. Further testing will follow later in the year, the Air Force said.

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

Military branches develop different hypersonic systems by considering various capabilities and needs. The Navy is developing its Conventional Prompt Strike system, which shares a hypersonic glide vehicle with the Army’s long-range hypersonic weapon. The Air Force is testing both the ARRW and the Hypersonic Attack 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 it is developing.

CNN reported earlier this week that the United States had successfully tested an HAWC missile but kept quiet about the test so as not to escalate tensions with Russia. The test came days after Russia said it used its own hypersonic Kinzhal 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 strike a well-defended target on land.

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

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

While some programs like HAWC have had successful tests, others like ARRW have repeatedly encountered testing problems, causing 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 received a much larger budget for the purpose of a deployable prototype during the upcoming exercise. But the delay will force the Air Force to spend more of its research and development budget on ARRW to complete flight testing, as the timeline remains uncertain.

“This funding realignment allows the Air Force to revisit a procurement decision in FY24 once specific programmatic milestones have been reached,” 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, which are expected to cost nearly $15 billion between 2015 and 2024.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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