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

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

“The ARRW production decision remains event-driven and will occur after operational utility is demonstrated through successful system end-to-end flight tests,” the Air Force said.

The military branches are developing different hypersonic systems as they examine 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 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 US had successfully tested a HAWC missile but kept quiet about the test so as not to exacerbate 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 enable the military to quickly strike a well-defended target on land.

The delay in the program, first reported by Bloomberg, comes as lawmakers have voiced growing frustration about the US falling behind adversaries like China and Russia in hypersonic weapons development.

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

While some programs like HAWC have had successful tests, others like ARRW have repeatedly run into problems in testing, causing delays in the development of these complex, technically challenging systems.

The HAWC and ARRW missiles are similar technologies — air-launched, air-breathing hypersonic weapons — but the Air Force’s priority has been the ARRW, which has received a far larger budget with the goal of a deployable prototype in the coming fiscal year . But the delay will force the Air Force to devote more of its research and development budget to ARRW to complete flight testing as the schedule remains in question.

“This funding realignment allows the Air Force to revisit a procurement decision in FY24 once specific programmatic milestones have been achieved,” the Air Force said.

In the FY23 defense budget, the Biden administration has 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, expected to cost nearly $15 billion between 2015 and 2024.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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