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Air Force conducts successful hypersonic missile component test

AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 under the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress at Edwards Air Force Base, Aug. 6, 2020. (Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem)

A unit of the Eglin Air Force Base-headquartered 53rd Wing conducted a successful test connected to the Air Force’s ongoing development of a hypersonic missile capable of traveling at multiple times the speed of sound.

The test, a simulated launch of the Air Force’s new AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), did not include an actual missile firing. The test did, however, show that a a B-52H Stratofortress bomber, the aircraft aboard which the ARRW will be deployed, could receive target data from electronic sensors and successfully make a simulated missile shot.

The ARRW is being developed by aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed Martin through the Air Force Armament Directorate, an Eglin AFB-headquartered enterprise.

During the Wednesday test, the B-52 received target data from more than 1,000 miles away and successfully took a simulated shot from nearly 700 miles away, according to a 53rd Wing news release. The test was conducted by the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron (49th TES), a geographically separated unit of the 53rd Wing headquartered at Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base.

“We were really exercising the data links that we needed in order to complete that ‘kill chain’ loop, and then get the feedback to the players in the airspace that the simulated hypersonic missile was fired and effective,” Lt. Col. Joe Little, 53rd Test Management Group deputy commander, said in an Air Force news release announcing the successful test.

The 53rd Test Management Group, which includes the 49th TES, is part of the Eglin-headquartered 53rd Wing. The wing is responsible for the operational testing and evaluation of new equipment and systems proposed for use by U.S. combat air forces.

The Wednesday test, involving a 13-hour flight from Barksdale Air Force Base to Alaska and back, took place during Northern Edge 21, a military exercise being conducted at military installations, local airports and training areas in and around Alaska that began Monday and continues through May 14.

Northern Edge 21 involves personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps. According to the Air Force, the exercise “provides high-end, realistic war fighter training, develops and improves joint interoperability (the ability of the various U.S. military service to coordinate their operations), and enhances the combat readiness of participating forces.”

Northern Edge provided a “highly contested and realistic threat environment” for Wednesday’s simulated firing of the ARRW, the 53rd Wing noted in its news release.

“This is a win for the USAF and greater DOD (U.S. Department of Defense) as a whole, but make no mistake, we are just getting started,” Lt. Col. Matt Guasco, 49th TES commander, said in the release.

That start, however, had an inauspicious moment just a little more than one month ago.

During an April 5 test conducted from Edwards Air Force Base in California over the Pacific Ocean’s Point Mugu Sea Range, a missile booster vehicle failed to launch from the B-52H Stratofortress aircraft to which it was attached.

A news release issued at the time from Eglin AFB called the unsuccessful test “a setback.” The release did not go into much detail on the failed test, noting only that the booster vehicle “encountered an issue on the aircraft and did not launch.” The news release went on to explain that the test missile “was not able to complete its launch sequence and was safely retained on the aircraft which returned to Edwards AFB.”

The U.S. military has been aggressively pursuing development of hypersonic missiles, capable of flying at multiple times the speed of sound, as Russia and China also have been working in the hypersonic realm.

Pursuit of hypersonic missile development by the U.S. military is related to a switch in the country’s national defense strategy away from counterterrorism operations toward “great power” competition with what the U.S. military calls “near peer” adversaries, like Russia and China. The rationale behind hypersonic missile development is, in part, that the missiles can fly so fast that defending against them becomes extremely problematic.

In other recent munitions-related news connected to Eglin AFB, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at the installation awarded a four-year, $212,701,232 contract on April 30 to Raytheon Missiles and Defense, Tucson, Arizona, for production of the StormBreaker Small Diameter Bomb II smart munition.

The StormBreaker is an an air-launched, precision-strike weapon designed for both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. According to Raytheon, the StormBreaker provides for increased weapons loading on fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft. The StormBreaker also allows for multiple-target attacks from nearly 50 miles away up to close-in attack range, also according to Raytheon.

The StormBreaker was approved for operational use in September 2020 after testing aboard F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets at Eglin AFB.

The April 30 contract provides for the production of “all-up rounds” — weapons ready for immediate use — and containers for the bombs.

According to the Department of Defense announcement of the contract award, work on the bombs will be performed in Tucson, Arizona, and is expected to be completed at the end of February 2025.

Other military contract awards issued in recent days with local connections, taken from the weekday contract announcements from the Department of Defense, include:

April 30

ACE Engineering Inc., Ontario, California, was awarded a maximum $20,000,000 contract for paving projects in the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Southeast area of operations. An initial task order is being awarded at $59,631 for repairs to Davis Road at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. Work for this task order is expected to be completed by June 2021.

Beyond that initial task order, other work done under the contract will be performed in Pensacola, Florida (50%); Milton, Florida (20%); naval operational support centers and naval outlying landing fields located in Florida and Alabama (20%); and Panama City, Florida (10%). The work is expected to be finished by April of next year, according to the DoD contract award announcement.

Systima Technologies Inc., Kirkland, Washington, was awarded a $45,000,000 five-year contract through the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, for precision-guided munitions products and support services. The work will be done for Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force units in U.S. Special Operations Command. Work will be performed in Kirkland, Washington, and is expected to be completed by April 30, 2026, according to the DoD announcement.

April 29

Raytheon Missiles & Defense, Tucson, Arizona, was awarded a $16,457,008 modification to an existing contract through the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida for integrated-circuit work in the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) program. Work will be performed in Tucson, Arizona, and is expected to be completed May 31, 2023.

The contract involves unclassified foreign military sales to Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Poland and Qatar, according to the DoD contract award announcement.


(c) 2021 the Northwest Florida Daily News

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