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Pentagon’s ARRW AGM-183A Hypersonic Missile Program Hangs by a Thread After Ambiguous Test

On February 27, the United States Air Force (USAF) released photos of a B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber outfitted with a hypersonic missile AGM-183A (or ARRW for Air-Launched Rapid Response missile) that had just landed on the island of Guam, home to Andersen Air Force Base.

Aside from the strategic signal concerning China, the arrival of this B-52H in Guam quickly indicated that a new test of the AGM-183A was about to be conducted, especially since notices to airmen (NOTAM) and navigation warnings regarding the Kwajalein Atoll, where the “Reagan Test Site” is located, were issued later. Additionally, according to specialised air traffic tracking systems, Gulfstream HALO (High Altitude Observatory) aircraft from the Missile Defence Agency (MDA) were observed in the region.

As a reminder, the AGM-183A, created by Lockheed-Martin, consists of a booster that, after being launched by a B-52H, attempts to impart a speed more than Mach 5 to a manoeuvring glider known as the Tactical Boost Glide (TBG). Between April 2021 and December 2022, tests for this programme yielded two failures, one “partial” success, and two successes.

Hypersonic Missile ARRW AGM-183A
Hypersonic Missile ARRW AGM-183A. Images: US DoD

While it appeared to be back on track in March 2023, a fresh test yielded mixed results, causing a setback. While the USAF stated that “many” objectives had been met (implying that others had not), Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall did not hesitate to label it a failure.

“We did not obtain the data we needed,” he said during a Congressional session. He intimated that the AGM-183A’s days were numbered and that other hypersonic weapon designs, such as the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile, with a more promising concept, would replace it.

However, the destiny of the AGM-183A would be determined by the results of its final scheduled testing. Was the one conducted on August 19, 2023, satisfactory? It’s difficult to say because the USAF was unclear about it, only claiming that it allowed them to collect “new valuable information on the capabilities of this new cutting-edge technology.” They said almost the same thing about the one carried out on October 12, 2023.

Nonetheless, a B-52H armed with an AGM-183A was sent to Guam for a final test. This occurred on March 17, according to a statement from the USAF. As with the other two tests, they reported that it provided them with “important information on the capabilities of this new cutting-edge technology.” Furthermore, no details were provided about the duration of the flight or the speed attained by this weapon.

It remains to be seen what will happen. The Pentagon did not include funds for the ARRW programme in its fiscal year 2025 budget request to Congress. However, numerous officials have expressed scepticism about its future.

USAF Hypersonic Missile ARRW AGM-183A

During a February congressional hearing, William LaPlante, the Deputy Defence Secretary for Acquisitions, stated that there is a plan that cannot be discussed publicly.

Andrew Hunter’s military assistant, Air Force for Acquisitions, Technology, and Logistics Secretary General Dale White, recently explained that future decisions regarding the AGM-183A would be based on the final analysis of all flight test data.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is focusing on the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile project, which aims to develop a hypervelocity missile powered by a supersonic combustion ramjet capable of being carried by a fighter bomber such as the F-15 Eagle II. In its budget request for 2025, it requested $517 million to continue development.



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