Lockheed and the U.S. Air Force Just Conducted a Hypersonic Missile Test

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December 22, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: HypersonicsHypersonic MissileU.S. Air ForceRussiaChina

Lockheed and the U.S. Air Force Just Conducted a Hypersonic Missile Test

The service is getting closer to having a powerful and functioning hypersonic missile deployed.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin and the United States Air Force announced the successful test of an Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (AARW) instrumented measurement vehicle (IMV), which was flown captive-carry on a Cold War era B-52H Stratofortress bomber. The Dec. 19 test of the hypersonic weapons platform took place at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and followed the successful test flight of the instrumented measurement vehicle in August.

Saturday’s test was the sixth IMV flight, which will lead up to booster flight testing. The flight test followed two previous successful IMV flights that occurred on Oct. 23 and 29. This was the sixth test of the ARRW.

“The results from this flight will be instrumental to ensure the subsystems are qualified to the correct environmental levels,” Mike O’Meara, Hypersonics chief engineer at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said in a post on the company’s website.

According to spokesperson at Lockheed Martin, the tests were conducted to obtain additional environmental data on the missile and its subsystems.

“The missile was built with tactical hardware and instrumented to collect thermal, mechanical and digital data from the flight vehicle through a telemetry stream and an on-board data recorder,” the spokesperson told The National Interest via an email.

Planned for production next year, the Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) would be the first hypersonic missile developed by and deployed with the U.S. military. Such capabilities could provide the United States with a stand-off strike opposition to address increased threats from China and Russia.

The ARRW is an air-launched boost-glide hypersonic weapon, which allows it to be initially accelerated using a rocket before gliding unpowered to the target at speeds greater than the speed of sound. Along with its greater speeds, the missiles also have the ability to maneuver with computerized precision, which could make it difficult to counter. Additionally, a hypersonic missile’s speed and force is so significant that it can inflict damage by its sheer “kinetic” impact without even needing explosives.

Lockheed Martin also noted, “The benefits of a hypersonic weapon include rapid response, time critical capability that will overcome distance in contested environments using high speed and altitude. An operational hypersonic air-launched weapon enables the U.S. to hold high value, time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments from stand-off distances.”

However, the speed of Mach 5—or more than sixty miles per minute, does create a number of complex engineering and physics challenges, which the defense contractor has been seeking to address and the company has been invested in developing the technology for over thirty years.

“The program team continues to achieve critical milestones on the incremental path to a successful flight test campaign,” added David Berganini, Boost-Glide Hypersonics program director, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

Even as the United States military moves forward with its efforts to develop hypersonic weapons, so too are America’s near-peer adversaries. Russia has recently conducted tests of its Tsirkon hypersonic missile.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Reuters.