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Air Force fires air-launched hypersonic weapon

A U.S. Air Force B-52 carries an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) during a 2019 test flight near Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force image/ Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Okula)
May 17, 2022

The U.S. Air Force conducted a successful launch of a hypersonic weapon on Saturday, launching it from a B-52 Stratofortress bomber during a test off the southern California coast. The test comes amid tensions with Russia during its invasion of Ukraine where it has launched its own hypersonic missiles.

The Air Force announced the successful launch of its AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) in a Monday press release.

The 419th Flight Test Squadron (419th FLTS) and the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force (GPB CTF) from Edwards Air Force Base conducted the hypersonic weapon launch. Once the weapon was dropped from the bomber, it ignited and its engine burned for the expected duration as it achieved speeds greater than five times the speed of sound, more than 3836 miles per hour.

“The test team made sure we executed this test flawlessly,” 419th FLTS commander and GPB CTF director Lt. Col. Michael Jungquist said. “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.” 

The ARRW is intended to strike fixed high-value targets in heavily defended areas from a “stand-off distance” — a distance great enough to allow the flight crew that launched the weapon to safely avoid air defenses. The Air Force said the ARRW will expand the force’s precision-strike capabilities by enabling it to carry out rapid strikes on heavily defended land targets. 

“This was a major accomplishment by the ARRW team, for the weapons enterprise, and our Air Force,” Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons, said of the launch. “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 U.S. hypersonic weapon test comes as Russia has repeatedly used hypersonic weapons in its invasion of Ukraine. In March, Russia announced it used an air-launched hypersonic missile, similar to the one the U.S. tested this weekend, to strike a Ukrainian arms storage depot in the western part of the country.

U.S. officials believe Russia has continued to use hypersonic weapons in Ukraine, launching as many as 12 so far in the ongoing fighting.

The U.S. is working to expand its hypersonic weapon development as both China and Russia have demonstrated their own rapid development of these weapons. In November, U.S. Space Force Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson said the U.S. has “a lot of catching up to do” on hypersonic weapons and it must do it “very quickly” in order to keep up with China and Russia.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conducted a test of another air-launched hypersonic weapon, known as the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC). The U.S. military did not say when the test took place and only revealed the launch in April. The U.S. military reportedly kept quiet about the test so as to avoid raising tensions with Russia.