US Air Force seeks to extend winning streak in hypersonic weapons testing
DAYTON, Ohio — The US Air Force plans to fly its air-launched hypersonic rapid response weapon at least once more this year, after a pair of successful tests.
ARRW has flown twice in the past four months, first in May and then again in July. The July test completed the recall testing phase and positioned it to enter full or full system testing. The successes follow a string of three failures in 2021, which drew criticism from lawmakers, who cut $161 million from the fiscal year 2022 effort.
Gen. Duke Richardson, chief of Air Force Materiel Command, told reporters the upcoming test will be “a big test” for the ARRW.
Hypersonic systems can travel at speeds above Mach 5 and maneuver in flight, making them harder to track and target. The United States has prioritized the development of hypersonic weapons in recent years, largely in response to advances made by Russia and China in demonstrating the technology.
Speaking to reporters Aug. 10 at the AFMC’s Life Cycle Industry Day event in Dayton, Ohio, Richardson said he was pleased with the Air Force‘s progress on ARRW and called early failures a “burps”.
Acknowledging that test failures often come with programmatic delays and time-consuming reviews, he said the service learns a lot from its missteps and he thinks Congress is starting to see the value of those lessons as well.
“There’s more appetite now for test failure. It’s part of the process,” he said. “What we have to do is understand. . . how to get through failure faster? Because we will fail.
What’s next for ARRW testing?
Lockheed Martin, the largest defense company in the world according to the recently released list of Top 100 Defense News, is the prime contractor for ARRW. Brian Shappacher, the company’s deputy program director for the effort, said during an Aug. 13 podcast hosted by the Mitchell Institute that the next phase of testing is structured to be more challenging than the recall test series.
“We’re still going to focus on the booster, of course, but we’re going to focus more on paragliding performance,” he said.
The Air Force wants the ARRW to reach early operational capability in 2023, and Shappacher noted that achieving that goal will be a challenge.
“We have more missiles to build and more flight tests to perform and complete than we have had at any other time in this program, with the goal of achieving early operational capability in 2023,” he said. he declared. “There’s just a lot going on. It’s an extremely aggressive schedule. So, you know, it keeps me awake at night, just to make sure we can meet all these commitments.
“Riding two horses” in hypersonic development
The Air Force is pursuing two major hypersonic weapons programs: ARRW and the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile. ARRW is an air-launched boost-glide missile system that releases its payload once it reaches high speeds. This payload then separates from the rocket and “glides” towards its target. The HACM is a smaller, cheaper cruise missile that relies on air-breathing propulsion. The service requested a total of $577 million for its hypersonic research and development efforts in fiscal year 2023.
On HACM, Lockheed competes with Raytheon and Boeing, the second and third ranked companies on the Defense News list. Breaking Defense reported in May that the Air Force expects to award a contract for HACM later this summer or fall.
The Air Force hasn’t said how long it plans to continue funding the two programs, and Richardson said that by “riding two horses” in terms of hypersonic development, the service has squared off. in a dilemma if he had to select a single effort for future investments.
“I actually like them both, personally,” he said. “We may have to get to that position where we have to choose one or the other. That remains to be seen. I am not able to answer how it will come out.