The U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday that the highly anticipated test flight of its new hypersonic weapon failed, with the prototype missile unable to fire from a bomber aircraft.
Calling the incident a “setback in demonstrating its progress in hypersonic weapons” development, the service said in a release that the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, known as ARRW (pronounced “Arrow”), booster vehicle failed to launch from a B-52 Stratofortress during an April 5 test over the Point Mugu Sea Range off the coast of California.
The test was meant to serve as ARRW’s inaugural launch.
“The test missile was not able to complete its launch sequence and was safely retained on the aircraft, which returned to Edwards Air Force Base,” officials said.
“The ARRW program has been pushing boundaries since its inception and taking calculated risks to move this important capability forward,” Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, executive officer of the Armament Directorate Program, said in the release. “While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead; this is why we test.”
In June 2019, the service conducted the first “captive carry” test flight of ARRW, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp. The Air Force still anticipates delivery of the conventional hypersonic weapon in the early 2020s, the release states.
ARRW leverages efforts from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Tactical Boost Glide project, in which a glide-body vehicle reaches high speeds before separating its payload and gliding toward its intended target, though ARRW employs a boost glide.
ARRW’s preliminary design review was completed in March 2019, Lockheed said at the time.
Monday’s mission was the eighth flight test for the program, following seven captive-carry flights that did not include a missile release. Its objectives included safely releasing the booster vehicle from the B-52 and assessing its performance, including how the missile separated from its external location on the aircraft before the glide vehicle kicked in to propel the missile.
A Lockheed spokesperson referred questions to the Air Force “due to the classified nature of the program.”
Because the vehicle returned to Edwards aboard the bomber, engineers and testers will investigate the defect before returning the prototype for testing, the Air Force said.
In 2020, the service canceled its Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon, known as HCSW (pronounced “Hacksaw”), in order to shift more resources to the ARRW program.
The Pentagon has shown great interest in developing hypersonic weapons, which move at more than five times the speed of sound and could potentially act as deterrents — even game changers — when responding to conflict from hundreds of miles away. Officials have said the services are working closely together on prototyping efforts.