US hypersonic missile makes first successful operational flight test

The US Air Force has reached a major milestone, completing the first test of its All-Up-Round AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic missile off the coast of Southern California last Friday.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the increasingly aggressive behavior by China, Iran, and North Korea are rapidly altering the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. The situation not only threw many assumptions about international relations into the ditch, it’s also created an arms industry boom as many countries deplete their munition stockpiles to arm Ukraine while realizing that national defense is no longer a back-burner issue.

It also put the race to field a practical hypersonic weapon system into sharp relief.

Loading the AGM-183A hypersonic missile
Loading the AGM-183A hypersonic missile

Nicole Ledbetter/U.S. Air Force

Until now, the United States has apparently lagged behind other countries when it comes to fielding missiles that can fly in excess of Mach 5. Part of the reason for this is that hypersonic flight isn’t just a matter of going very, very fast. It also requires clearing a number of technological hurdles to make a missile like the AGM-183A, which has a top speed of Mach 20, practical.

This means new materials, sensors, and avionics that can withstand heat, thermal stresses, and acceleration, as well as control systems that operate much faster than those found on supersonic missiles.

The latest test was the US Air Force’s first test flight of a fully operational prototype hypersonic missile, and saw the weapon carried aloft a B-52H Stratofortress bomber and dropped from a high altitude. A booster rocket then automatically ignited, propelling the vehicle at speeds over five times the speed of sound. According to the Air Force, previous tests concentrated on the performance of the booster, but the latest one saw the missile cover a planned flight path and then detonate in a predetermined area, completing all mission objectives.

“The ARRW team successfully designed and tested an air-launched hypersonic missile in five years,” said Brigadier General Jason Bartolomei, Armament Directorate Program Executive Officer. “I am immensely proud of the tenacity and dedication this team has shown to provide a vital capability to our war fighter.”

Source: US Air Force

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