On their fourth attempt, the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin launched a hypersonic missile, the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW).
The Air Force completed the launch on May 14th, 2022, deploying the missile from a B-52H Stratofortress off the coast of Southern California. Hypersonic flight refers to speeds over five times the speed of sound, otherwise known as Mach 5. This allows hypersonic weapons to be deployed further away while flying at lower altitudes, as well as making them more difficult to detect and intercept than conventional missiles.
Though the AGM-183A supposedly has a top speed of Mach 20, extreme temperature and pressure at these speeds would make new materials for its construction and avionics necessary for it to withstand the stresses. The test did not involve assessing the missile's top speed, but its booster rocket managed to accelerate it to above Mach 5. It successfully handled operation at those speeds and the team behind it "made history on this first air-launched hypersonic weapon."
"The need for hypersonic strike capabilities is critical to our nation and this successful test will help us to maintain an accelerated and rigorous timeline. Our strong partnership with the U.S. Air Force has allowed us to quickly progress hypersonic technologies for our men and women in uniform," said Dave Berganini, vice president of Hypersonic and Strike Systems at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.
"This was a major accomplishment by the ARRW team, for the weapons enterprise, and our Air Force. 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," said Brigadier General Heath Collins, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons.
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