USAF and Lockheed Martin complete ARRW hypersonic flight test

The US Air Force (USAF) and Lockheed Martin have conducted a hypersonic-boosted flight test of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) from the service’s B-52H Stratofortress.

According to a May 17 Lockheed Martin release the flight demonstrated the weapon’s ability to reach and withstand operational hypersonic speeds, collect data for use in further flight tests, and validate safe separation from the aircraft to deliver the glide body and warhead to designated targets from “significant” standoff distances.

ARRW glide vehicle
The ARRW is the main US effort to break open the technological benefit of hypersonic glide vehicles, and the combat benefits that it would provide. Lockheed Martin

“The need for hypersonic strike capabilities is critical to our nation and this successful test will help us to maintain an accelerated and rigorous timeline,” said Dave Berganini, vice president of Hypersonic and Strike Systems at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said in a statement.

Additional booster and all-up-round test flights will continue throughout 2022, before reaching Early Operational Capability (EOC) in 2023.

Both Russia and China have in recent years increased their respective hypersonic missile capabilities, which offer the potential to defeat contemporary missile defence systems. Moscow has reportedly used the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles in its ongoing war in Ukraine, while Beijing’s recently further tested its ‘carrier-killer’ YJ-21 system during naval exercises.

Hypersonic technology continues to present several complex engineering challenges. Going Mach 5, sometimes even faster, generates extreme levels of heat, which has to be countered through the development of new materials, sensors, and electronics to withstand such conditions during the missile flight phase.

In addition to heat, these systems must be able to maintain consistent communication connections, as well being capable of the manoeuvrability required to overcome advanced defence systems in contested environments.