US Air Force Launches Prototype of What May Be First Operational Hypersonic Missile

After a streak of three consecutive failed tests, the U.S. Air Force has finally successfully test-launched a prototype of an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon hypersonic missile (ARRW) – potentially paving the way for it to become the service’s first operational hypersonic missile.

“This was a major accomplishment by the ARRW team, for the weapons enterprise, and our Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s program executive for weapons. “The team’s tenacity, expertise, and commitment were key in overcoming the past year’s challenges to get us to the recent success. We are ready to build on what we’ve learned and continue moving hypersonics forward.”

The test used a B-52 bomber to release the ARRW missile, with the booster the igniting and burning for the expected duration. The weapon was able to achieve hypersonic speeds five times greater than the speed of sound – Mach 5 (6,100 km/h) or greater. When fully prepared, the boost-glide weapon should be capable of reaching a maximum speed of more than Mach 20 by a rocket motor before gliding towards its target.

The ARRW missile is a boost-glide weapon that is fired into the atmosphere and uses the energy from its rocket to fly toward its target, ARRW is characterized by its speed, high maneuverability, and trajectory – making detection and interception by enemy missile defense systems difficult. It is designed to enable the U.S. to hold fixed, high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments from stand-off distances. It will also expand precision-strike capabilities by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets. 

The test was executed by the 419th Flight Test Squadron and the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force, or GPB CTF.

“The test team made sure we executed this test flawlessly,” said Lt. Col. Michael Jungquist, 419th FLTS commander and GPB CTF director. “Our highly-skilled team made history on this first air-launched hypersonic weapon. We’re doing everything we can to get this game-changing weapon to the warfighter as soon as possible.”