U.S. Military Racks Up String of Successful Hypersonic Tests

U.S. Military Racks Up String of Successful Hypersonic Tests

The Pentagon may be turning its hypersonic weapons programs around.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Operational Fires project just finished its first flight test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, a DARPA press release explains.

“The OpFires system achieved all test objectives, including first-ever use of a U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) logistics truck as a medium-range missile launcher, missile canister egress, stable flight capture, and use of U.S. Army inventory artillery fire control systems to initiate the test mission,” the press release explained.

The press release added that the flight test “demonstrated integrated technology maturation of key enabling components including the first stage rocket motor, missile canister, and missile round pallet (MRP). The MRP is designed for use with the load handling system available on USMC and Army logistics vehicles, eliminating the need for a bespoke OpFires transporter erector launcher (TEL).”

The goal of DARPA’s OpFires project is to develop a ground-launched, “two-stage propulsive system” that can launch hypersonic missiles from the United States military’s Palletized Load System family of vehicles. The press release also explains that the project seeks to “penetrate modern air defenses” and “precisely strike time-critical targets.”

“This is a promising step toward a TEL on-demand capability for accurately firing medium-range missiles from highly agile, readily available logistics trucks that are already in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps inventory,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Stults, the DARPA program manager for OpFires. “Our successful agile hardware development approach prioritizes full-scale flight testing that will inform further design maturation this year,” he added.

In addition to DARPA’s recent success, the U.S. Air Force also enjoyed the recent successful launch of a hypersonic weapon currently under development. Just off the coast of southern California, the Air Force dropped its Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, in what was the program’s twelfth test flight and just the third time the weapon had been released during flight.

The ARRW hypersonic missile is air-launched and flies at hypersonic speeds. The U.S. Air Force explains that it is designed to engage “high-value, time-sensitive targets.” Maj. Gen. Heath Collins, the program executive officer for the Armament Directorate,  said that "this was another important milestone for the Air Force's first air-launched hypersonic weapon. The test successfully demonstrated booster performance expanding the operational envelope.” 

“We have now completed our booster test series and are ready to move forward to all-up-round testing later this year. Congratulations to the entire ARRW team, your dedication and expertise are what got us here," he continued. 

Although experts have been concerned with what is seen as the United States’ slow hypersonic weapon development pace, these two successful tests could be good signs for programs that have been plagued with developmental problems or slow development.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson

Image: Flickr/U.S. Air Force.