On Wednesday, the US Air Force confirmed that it had “successfully tested” its Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) rocket on Tuesday, off the coast of California. The US has tested two Lockheed Martin hypersonic missiles despite concerns that its geopolitical rivals, Russia and China, have developed better hypersonic weapons.

On July 12, the US States Air Force (USAF) completed the booster test program by flying one last demonstration flight with its Lockheed Martin AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) booster. Janes indicated in a report that the service provider announced on July 13 that it was “ready” to begin “all-up-round testing” later this year.

During the ARRW test, the launcher was lifted into the air beneath the wing of a B-52H before it was released into space. In earlier trials, the weapon did not separate from the aircraft.

“This second, successful test demonstrates ARRW’s ability to reach and withstand operational hypersonic speeds, collect crucial data for use in further flight tests, and validate safe separation from the aircraft,” Lockheed said.

After a test flight of a different kind of hypersonic weapon, the Common Hypersonic Glide Body, conducted on June 29 at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii and failed, these successful tests came as a relief showing the positive result of the missile test launch.

In the upper atmosphere, hypersonic missiles move at speeds greater than five times the speed of sound, equivalent to around 6,200 kilometers per hour. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) reported that it had completed the first test of its Operational Fires hypersonic weapon during a separate hypersonic weapon test. According to a media report, White Sands Missile Range, located in New Mexico, served as the test site.

According to DARPA, this was the first flight test of the ground-based hypersonic boost-glide system. The technology was designed to be launched from a conventional military truck.

The primary objective of the first test flight was to verify that the rocket could be successfully launched from the vehicle. A company representative informed a media agency that more technology testing is scheduled later this year.

(ILLUSTRATION) — An artist illustration of a US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress carrying four AGM-183 ARRW hypersonic weapons. Developed by Lockheed Martin, the boost-glide weapon is propelled to a maximum speed of more than Mach 5 by a rocket motor before gliding towards its target. Lockheed Martin illustration. (Source: Air Force Magazine Lockheed Martin Illustration)

China’s 2021 Launch

In 2021, the Chinese government announced that it had successfully tested a hypersonic weapon that could circumnavigate the globe before adversely affecting its target.

The weapons system would be noteworthy as it would allow an unanticipated vector of attack against the US, such as coming from the South Pole. Since the US’s missile defense systems and early warning radar systems are positioned in the vicinity of the North Pole, which is the typical path taken by intercontinental ballistic missiles, the nation is susceptible to attack from the other direction.

In an interview published a year ago, the second most senior US general revealed new details about China’s test of a hypersonic missile that took place over the summer. He also issued a warning that China may one day be able to launch a surprise preemptive nuclear assault on the US.

“They launched a long-range missile,” General John Hyten, the outgoing vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CBS News. “It went around the world, dropped off a hypersonic glide vehicle that glided back to China, that impacted a target in China.

The facts concerning the test come at a time when tensions are rising over Taiwan, and China is striving to help bolster its capabilities in the weaponry department. In a report made public last year, the Pentagon alerted that China is “rapidly expanding” its nuclear arsenal and could have as many as 1,000 nuclear weapons by the end of this decade.

Chinese YJ-91 anti-radiation missile. (Source: GDCCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Russian Breakthrough

Meanwhile, Russia recently became the first to use hypersonic weapon systems in a military conflict when it fired its Iskander and Kinzhal missiles at Ukraine.

Russia has asserted that it destroyed a powerful weapons storage facility in western Ukraine utilizing a hypersonic missile. This is the first time a Kinzhal rocket, known as a “Dagger” missile, has been used in combat since Vladimir Putin dispatched his soldiers into Ukraine, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

According to Igor Konashenkov, a Russia’s Ministry of Defense spokesman, the “unstoppable” missile was launched and destroyed underground storage in the Ivano-Frankivsk region holding ammunition for Ukrainian troops.

Putin has stated in the past that his country only started developing them “in response” to the US’s installation of a strategic missile defense system.