The US Air Force recently announced that on June 12, 2019, it carried out the very first captive-carry flight test of the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon – also known as ARRW – using a B-52H Bomber. The weapon is an air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle and is one of the three hypersonic weapons that the service intends on incorporating into the B-52 in the years to come.
The B-52H had a ‘sensor-only’ variant of the AGM-183A during the test run at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The missile didn’t have a live warhead and remained in place on the bomber throughout the test. The official US Air Force statement said, ‘The test gathered data on drag and vibration impacts on the weapon itself and on the external carriage equipment of the aircraft. This type of data collection is required for all Air Force weapon systems undergoing development.’
No pictures of the AGM-183A have been released so far. However, it is understood that it is an evolved iteration of the Defense Advanced Research Project’s Agency’s (DARPA) Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) program. Lockheed Martin is the primary contractor on both ARRW – pronounced as Arrow – and TBG. For a hypersonic boost glide vehicle such as AGM-183A, it must be accelerated using a booster rocket to achieve the appropriate speed and altitude. Once it has, it then glides towards its target at speeds reaching Mach 20.
It is supposed to feature atmospheric flight profile and is capable of maneuvering itself in ways that are best described as unpredictable, thus making it hard for defenses to intercept it. Interception is another thing, hypersonic missiles such as the AGM-183A are even hard to spot! Their speed and stand-off range also render them as perfect for the B-52.
Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said while talking about the flight test, ‘We set out an aggressive schedule with ARRW. Getting to this flight test on time highlights the amazing work of our acquisition workforce and our partnership with Lockheed Martin and other industry partners.’ The US military is working towards hypersonic weapons quite hurriedly. Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Roper said, ‘We’re using the rapid prototyping authorities provided by Congress to bring hypersonic weapon capabilities to the warfighter quickly. This type of speed in our acquisition system is essential – it allows us to field capabilities rapidly to compete against the threats we face.’
Let’s see how soon the US Air Force is able to get the AGM-183A functional!