The U.S. Defense Department is on schedule with plans to deploy its first new hypersonic weapon by the summer of 2023 and to develop other offensive hypersonic and anti-hypersonic weapons defense capabilities. The Air Force’s AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon is poised to be the first hypersonic offensive system to move from development to procurement, the Defense Department’s point man on the technology said.
There will be many test flights for ARRW over the next year, with fielding planned for 2022, Mike White, principal director for hypersonics in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said recently. The 2022 budget proposal released in late May supports an “accelerated buying strategy” that will transition some of the various research-and-development programs to weapons procurement, he added.
The test came days after Russia said it used its hypersonic missile during its invasion of Ukraine, claiming it targeted an ammunition warehouse in western Ukraine. US officials downplayed the significance of the Russian use of their hypersonic Kinzhal missile. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he did not view it as “some sort of game changer” after the Russians announced the missile launch. Days later, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said it was “hard to know what exactly the justification” was for the launch since it targeted a stationary storage facility.
The Defense Department is prioritizing the development of air-launched hypersonic weapons such as the ARRW over land- or sea-launched systems, he said. There is also funding in the 2022 budget request to continue to develop the Air Force’s hypersonic attack cruise missile and the Navy’s offensive anti-surface warfare increment 2 air-launched capabilities.
Defense contractors hope to capitalize on the shift to hypersonic weapons not only by building them but also by developing new detection and defeat mechanisms. Arms makers like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon Technologies have all touted their hypersonic weapons programs to investors as the world’s focus shifted to the new arms race for an emerging class of weapons.