The US Air Force has been working with Lockheed Martin to develop the AGM-183 ARRW(Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon), a hypersonic air-to-ground missile. This weapon is designed to enable the US to hold fixed, high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments. 

The ARRW is designed to provide an alternative to nuclear weapons, allowing the US Air Force to hold fixed, high-value targets at risk in contested environments. It consists of a solid rocket motor booster, a protective glider shroud, and a glider vehicle.

If successful, the ARRW could be used for long-range strikes against time-sensitive targets in heavily defended areas. This would give the US Air Force greater flexibility in responding to threats and allow them to act quickly in times of crisis.

 The development of the ARRW is part of a larger effort by the US Air Force to invest in hypersonic technology and weapons systems. This includes other programs, such as DARPA’s Tactical Boost Glide system, designed to rapidly deploy conventional warheads at hypersonic speeds. Potentially, with these advancements, the US Air Force will be better equipped to protect its domestic and foreign interests.

The Air Force conducted its first operational prototype missile test and planned on transitioning the program from a Rapid Prototyping to a Rapid Fielding program after successfully deploying the ARRW residual.

However, the most recent test of the ARRW hypersonic missile was unsuccessful, according to US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. This failure has jeopardized the program and caused the Air Force to shift their focus toward another type of hypersonic weapon. Despite this setback, Secretary Kendall expressed that they are more committed to developing this technology than ever.

On Wednesday, the acquisition chief of the US Air Force revealed to legislators that once the prototyping phase of the hypersonic AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon is finished, and added that they would not be procuring the weapon due to difficulties encountered during testing.

Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, testified before the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee that the ARRW program will still finish its two all-up round test flights to acquire data that can be used for other hypersonic programs in the future.

“While the Air Force does not currently intend to pursue follow-on procurement of ARRW once the prototyping program concludes, there is an inherent benefit to completing the all-up round test flights to garner the learning and test data that will help inform future hypersonic programs,” Hunter wrote.

The ARRW program has seen both progress and setbacks since its inception. After repeatedly pushing back its timeline due to technical issues, it faces an even more significant challenge: proving it will work as intended. The success of this project is essential for protecting US interests against adversaries who are also developing similar weapons systems. However, the US Air Force is firm about their decision to cancel the entire program.

Lockheed Martin has been leading development efforts for this project and has worked closely with the Air Force throughout its duration but has failed to show tangible results. 

Moreover, after Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall declared a March test unsuccessful, Hunter sounded the alarm announcing the end of Lockheed Martin’s ARRW program.

On Friday, the Air Force revealed they conducted a second trial launch of a fully functional ARRW prototype on March 13. But, the military did not consider it a success but noted that some goals were achieved. Following the first trial launch in December, a statement was released by the Air Force confirming that all objectives were met.

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Earlier this week, Kendall then informed the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel that the ARRW examination had failed and that the program had experienced a few difficulties in its testing regimen.

Kendall also reported that the Air Force still desires to execute two more tests with their remaining ARRW prototypes. However, he also clarified to legislators that the service is more dedicated to their other major hypersonic weapon program, the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile.

“HACM is a powerful example of developing and integrating combat capabilities alongside our partners from the beginning,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. “HACM will provide our commanders with tactical flexibility to employ fighters to hold high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk while maintaining bombers for other strategic targets.”

Hypersonic weapons can move faster than Mach 5, making them difficult to detect and intercept. China and Russia have both committed considerable resources to develop them for their armed forces, producing some apprehension among US legislators who feel the nation needs to do more to acquire its own hypersonic weapons.

“We have over a decade of cooperation with our Australian allies in the advancement of hypersonic technologies, and now we will bring that shared knowledge to bear to address urgent national defense requirements,” said Hunter.