U.S. Air Force Reveals Details of First Hypersonic Missile Soon After Latest Russian Test

An Air Force general has revealed new details about what is set to be the service's first hypersonic missile as the U.S. tries to catch up with the hypersonic research of its Russian and Chinese rivals.

Air Force Major General Andrew Gebara—Air Force Global Strike Command's director of strategic plans, programs and requirements—told Air Force Magazine earlier this month that Lockheed Martin's coming AGM-183A air-launched rapid-response weapon, also known as ARRW, is "amazing."

The hypersonic missile is made up of a solid-fuel rocket booster topped by an unpowered boost-glide vehicle. The rocket booster propels the missile to hypersonic speeds, after which the glide vehicle detaches and continues to its target.

These boost-glide vehicles will be able to carry nuclear warheads and maneuver in flight while maintaining hypersonic speeds, making it difficult for defensive missiles to track and intercept them.

Gebara confirmed that the ARRW will be capable of hypersonic speeds, which means anything above Mach 5 or around 3,836 miles per hour. "This thing is going to be able to go, in 10-12 minutes, almost 1,000 miles," Gebara told Air Force Magazine. "It's amazing."

This means the ARRW could hit speeds of between 5,000 and 6,000 miles per hour—somewhere between Mach 6.5 and Mach 8.

It is unclear whether Gebara meant this is the missile top speed or the average speed of the boost-glide warhead. The vehicle in the joint Lockheed Martin-Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Tactical Boost Glide program has been touted as being able to hit speeds as high as Mach 20, according to the agency.

The Air Force has now completed the ARRW's early testing phase, successfully mounting a prototype of the weapon on a B-52 strategic bomber. The service is also considering the B-1 Lancer bomber as another delivery aircraft.

Live-fire flight tests for ARRW prototypes are slated for October 2021, and the Air Force has said it plans to purchase at least eight such prototypes, The Drive reported. The service is aiming for initial operational capacity by September 2022, though the program is running behind schedule and costs have swollen by almost 40 percent to date.

The U.S. military is racing to catch up to Russia and China, both of which already have operational hypersonic missiles. Last week, Russia successfully tested a naval hypersonic missile known as the Tsirkon. The Russian air force already fields the Kinzhal nuclear-capable hypersonic missile.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump's administration proposed a 23 percent increase in funding for hypersonic weapons. The Army and Navy are already working together on their own hypersonic weapon known as the Common-Hypersonic Glide Body. The prototype had its first successful flight in March, hitting within six inches of its target according to U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

US Air Force, hypersonic missile, ARRW, Russia
A U.S. B-52 Stratofortress is pictured ahead of a captive-carry flight test of an ARRW hypersonic missile prototype at Edwards Force Base, California, on August 8. Giancarlo Casem/U.S. Air Force