US catching up on critical high-tech weapon used by Russia, China

Micaela Burrow, DCNF

The U.S. successfully tested a pair of hypersonic missiles Tuesday, marking progress in an arms race where some fear the U.S. is falling behind its major rivals.

The “Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon” (ARRW) detached from a B-52 aircraft and ignited in only the second successful attempt to launch a hypersonic weapon, the Air Force announced Wednesday. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) also confirmed a successful launch of its OpFires hypersonic weapon Wednesday.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin developed both weapons, which are capable of flying at five times the speed of sound, according to Reuters.

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,” said Air Force Brigadier General Heath Collins, the program executive officer.

The ARRW test marked the completion of the “booster” phase, where the weapon is fired with extra assistance, Collins said. The next phase involves testing the entire system, according to CNN.

The U.S. Air Force attempted to launch the ARRW three times in 2021, but in each the missile failed to detach from the aircraft, according to CNN. The first successful test of a U.S. ARRW occurred in May, when the Air Force launched two weapons off the coast of California.

“This successful test underscores our shared commitment to develop and field hypersonic weapons on accelerated timelines to meet critical national security needs,” Jay Pitman, vice president of Air Dominance and Strike Weapons at Lockheed Martin, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement.

“The OpFires program is a great example of how DARPA, in partnership with industry, is helping the Department of Defense facilitate rapid development and testing of advanced hypersonic technologies to accelerate the delivery of transformational warfighting capabilities,” Michael White, principal director for hypersonics in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said in a DARPA release.

U.S. efforts to develop successful hypersonic weapons programs have stumbled amidst technical failures and concerns over cost, according to Reuters. However, Russia and China may have fully functional systems.

China tested two hypersonics in the summer 2021, according to Bloomberg. The tests reportedly stunned U.S. military and intelligence officials, and Gen. Mark Milley called it a “Sputnik moment.”

Russia allegedly fired a hypersonic missile to destroy a weapons facility in western Ukraine a month into the invasion. In October, Russia claimed to have successfully launched a hypersonic weapon from a submarine, according to Reuters.

The Air Force and DARPA directed the DCNF to their statements when reached for comment.

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