This story was updated Aug. 23, 2023, with a statement from Lockheed Martin.
WASHINGTON — The Air Force on Saturday conducted its latest test of a prototype hypersonic AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, collecting data it hopes will help it develop future weapons that can travel at greater than Mach 5.
The Air Force said in a statement that a B-52H Stratofortress released a full operational prototype ARRW, known as an all-up round, off the coast of Southern California. ARRW is made by Lockheed Martin.
This ARRW test marked the first since a failed test of another operational prototype in March. After an announcement about that test was silent on whether it had achieved its objectives, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall soon afterwards told Congress it was “not a success.” Kendall also told lawmakers the service was more committed to the HACM than ARRW, and that the ARRW’s future is in doubt, with a decision on whether to continue with the program likely to come as part of the fiscal 2025 budget process.
Hypersonic weapons travel at speeds greater than Mach 5, or more than 3,836 miler per hour, and are highly maneuverable, which makes them difficult to track and shoot down. Lawmakers have expressed concern that the U.S. military has not done enough to develop and field hypersonic weapons, and that the nation may be falling behind Chinese and Russian hypersonic capabilities.
The service said it would not discuss specific objectives of the Aug. 19 test, and did not say whether it considered the test a success. But the Air Force said it “gained valuable new insights into the capabilities” of ARRW, and that the data would help it advance programs such as ARRW and the service’s other major hypersonic weapon program, the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile.
The Air Force said the test focused on ARRW’s end-to-end performance, and that it also validated and improved the service’s test and evaluation capabilities to continue to develop advanced hypersonic systems.
In a statement to Defense News, Lockheed said it “has full confidence in the maturity and production readiness of” ARRW following this flight test.
“We continue to partner with the U.S. Air Force on ARRW hypersonic-strike capabilities by conducting operational end-to-end testing, further validating the design and production of the system,” Lockheed said.
In another March hearing, Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter said the Air Force was still planning to conduct the last two ARRW all-up round test flights to collect data for future hypersonic programs.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.