Air Force Bomber Completes Hypersonic Missile Test Amid China, Russia Arms Race

A B-52 has completed the first successful off-ground test of a hypersonic missile being developed by the U.S. Air Force, as the Pentagon races against China and Russia to develop the next generation of weapons.

A B-52 Stratofortress bomber flew a 13-hour round trip to Alaska from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to test data transmission and target sensing for the AGM-183 air-launched rapid response weapon—or ARRW—on May 5, according to an Air Force statement released on Thursday.

The ARRW is the hypersonic missile developed by Lockheed Martin for the Air Force.

During the trip, the B-52 was able to receive target data from sensors via the All-Domain Operations Capability experiment, or ADOC-E, more than 1,000 nautical miles away at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, the statement said.

Once it had received the data from the ADOC-E, the bomber was able to take a simulated shot of the target from 600 nautical miles away using the hypersonic missile.

"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," said Lt. Col. Joe Little, deputy commander of the 53rd Test Management Group.

"The team did an outstanding job effecting this event both in planning and execution," said Lt. Col. Matt Guasco, commander of the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron. "This is a win for the U.S. Air Force and greater [Department of Defense] as a whole but make no mistake, we are just getting started."

First Lt. Savanah Bray, an Air Force spokeswoman, told Stars and Stripes that the test was "a major milestone."

The flight test of the ARRW had been delayed after it was initially scheduled for December 2020. The Air Force has not explained precisely why the launch was pushed back, but said "technical findings" and the coronavirus pandemic were among the reasons.

In early April the test finally went ahead, but failed after the ARRW missile didn't launch from the bomber carrying it. It was the seventh ARRW test and the first that involved an actual launch.

Hypersonic missiles could revolutionise warfare because of their high speeds, flat trajectory and ability to maneuver in flight, all of which will make it difficult for existing anti-missile systems to intercept them. Russia and China are investing heavily in hypersonic research and Moscow has already deployed two hypersonic weapons.

The missiles are made up of a solid-fuel rocket booster topped by an unpowered boost-glide vehicle. The booster propels the glide vehicle and its warheads—including nuclear warheads—to hypersonic speeds, after which the latter detaches and continues to its target.

The ARRW will be able to fly at speeds of between 5,000 and 6,000 miles per hour—somewhere between Mach 6.5 and Mach 8, according to Major General Andrew Gebara, director of strategic plans, programs and requirements for Air Force Global Strike Command, quoted in Air Force Magazine last October.

The Air Force has already completed the ARRW's early testing phase, mounting a prototype of the weapon on a B-52 strategic bomber. The service is hoping to live-fire ARRW prototypes in October 2021, purchasing as many as eight prototypes. Operational capacity is slated for September 2022.

B-52 flying hypersonic missile system
This B-52 completed the first successful off-ground test of a hypersonic missile for the U.S. Air Force on May 5. US Air Force