August 8, 2020 photo shows a member of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 test team make final preparations prior to a captive-carry test flight of the prototype hypersonic weapon at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Photo credit: Kyle Brasier, Air Force


Next week, look for a rapid prototyping program dubbed ARRW, short for the AGM-183A air-launched rapid response weapon, to take to the air.

This boost-glide based hypersonic weapon is moving the United States forward in developing hypersonic systems able to travel on extended flights within the upper atmosphere — 80,000 to 200,000 feet — at speeds near and above Mach 5.

Transition into production

Preparations are underway for the first booster flight test next week says Air Force Brig. Gen. Heath A. Collins, program executive officer for weapons and director of the armament directorate at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center in the Air Force Materiel Command.

“We’re also getting ready to transition into production within about a year on that program, so it will be the first air-launch hypersonic weapon that the Air Force has,” Collins notes.

The U.S. Defense Department has identified hypersonics as one of the highest priority modernization areas, as Russia and China develop their own capable systems.

The U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin successfully flight tested the second AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) on the service’s B-52 Stratofortress out of Edwards Air Force Base, California, on Aug. 8, 2020.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

Hypersonics modernization strategy

Mike White, principal director for hypersonics in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, has told attendees of the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium that a hypersonics modernization strategy has been established that accelerates the development and delivery of transformational warfighting capabilities.

That strategy is being implemented in a highly coordinated set of programs across the military services and agencies, laboratories, as well as working collaboratively with allies, where appropriate.

“We will deliver strike capability to the warfighter in the early-mid 2020s and a layered hypersonic defense capability — first terminal and then glide phase — in the mid-late 2020s. For reusable systems, our goal is to deliver capability in the early to mid-2030s,” White explains.

James Weber, senior scientist for hypersonics at the Air Force Research Laboratory, says that over the last 25 years, DOD has invested some $1.7 billion in hypersonics.

An artist’s rendering depicts a hypersonic vehicle. NASA has been delving into hypersonics, eyeing future jets and lifting body–type space vehicles and reentry vehicles.
Credit: NASA’s Lewis Research Center

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