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'Super-Duper' Missile in Death Throes, Shattering US Hypersonic Ambitions

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‘Super-Duper’ Missile in Death Throes, Shattering US Hypersonic Ambitions

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Drago Bosnic, independent geopolitical and military analyst

Back in May 2020, then-US President Donald Trump stated the United States was working on a “super-duper missile capable of flying 17 times faster than any other missile existing at the moment”, adding that any further details were classified. However, Trump’s rather limited grasp of military technologies, combined with an attempt to appease his potential voters, resulted in an “unfortunate” choice of words. And while he never revealed the exact missile he was talking about, most military analysts were quick to identify what weapon the former US president had in mind. It was the AGM-183A, an air-launched missile carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). Dubbed the ARRW (Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon), the missile was supposed to be the US entry point into the highly exclusive “hypersonic club”.

The ARRW effort, led by Lockheed Martin, the bigwig of the massive US MIC (Military Industrial Complex), was an (over)ambitious plan to push the belligerent thalassocracy ahead of near-peer rivals such as Russia and China. Firstly, it’s important to understand that HGVs cannot be strictly defined as missiles, since they are unpowered and require a launch vehicle, an actual missile that propels them to hypersonic speeds. The AGM-183A ARRW went through a rather rocky R&D process, being unable to go past the Mach 5 mark, which is the bare minimum required for a weapon to be considered hypersonic (Mach 5+, five or more times faster than the speed of sound). The projected maximum speed for the weapon was changed several times, ranging from Mach 5 to Mach 20, but at the time of Trump’s speech it was reported to be Mach 17.

However, the definition “17 times faster than the speed of sound” probably didn’t mean much to Trump, so he just simplified it and told the press that it was “17 times faster than any other missile existing at the moment”. Lockheed Martin projected that the weapon would be capable of speeds in excess of Mach 20, but its R&D teams encountered serious issues in achieving this goal. The problem mainly involved the ARRW’s (in)ability to endure extreme heat generated during hypersonic flight, resulting in the destruction of its highly sensitive microelectronics. After over half a decade of testing, AGM-183A was barely able to achieve Mach 5 before being incinerated by the extreme heat. After at least half a dozen (publicly admitted) consecutive failures in testing, the US Congress threatened to cut further funding for the project.

And yet, instead of actually resolving the project’s numerous R&D issues, Lockheed Martin resorted to using semantics as a way to misreport its alleged success, since further blunders meant cuts to funding and the eventual cancellation of the program. After years of failures, AGM-183A suddenly had a string of several seemingly flawless tests. However, these were just simple trials of its rocket booster that were then presented as successful HGV launches. And yet, the project was nowhere near completion, leaving the US Air Force without an operational weapon as several deadlines slipped. The series of “stagnant successes” was broken only in December 2022, when USAF and Lockheed Martin revealed that the first full test of the weapon was successfully completed.

Still, while this gave much-needed hope to the fledgling project, it also prompted a behind-the-curtain investigation which revealed that the project was far behind schedule, putting it under increased pressure and scrutiny. Lockheed Martin now had just one more chance to make the weapon work. On March 13, a USAF B-52H strategic bomber carrying a single AGM-183A conducted the second full test. Initially, the USAF refused to comment on the outcome, leaving experts almost certain that it was another failure. Only a day later, this notion was further reinforced by the announcement that the service would not be purchasing hypersonic weapons in 2024. Finally, on March 28, several media reported that the USAF admitted the test was a complete failure. The details are still classified, but it seems that the rocket booster failed this time.

This was the last straw for the US Congress which decided to cut much of the planned funding for the project. In a written report to the House Armed Service’s tactical air and land forces subcommittee, USAF acquisition chief Andrew Hunter stated that “the service does not currently intend to pursue follow-on procurement of the ARRW once the prototyping program concludes”. However, the USAF still requested approximately $150 million for further R&D work in 2024, “to garner the learning and test data that will help inform future hypersonic programs”. This effectively means that the AGM-183A is “back to the drawing board”, although the project is still not officially canceled and it has two more tests scheduled, albeit with less funding.

In stark contrast, with the Mach 12-capable “Kinzhal” air-launched hypersonic missile carried by modified MiG-31K/I interceptors and Tu-22M3 long-range bombers, the Mach 28-capable “Avangard” HGV deployed on various ICBMs and the Mach 9-capable scramjet-powered “Zircon” hypersonic cruise missile deployed on naval (both submarines and surface ships) and (soon) on land platforms, Russia is decades ahead of the US, both in terms of deployment and weapon capabilities. In addition, Moscow has been using these weapons against the Kiev regime and NATO high-value targets in Ukraine. The Russian military is not just the world’s only armed force widely deploying hypersonic missiles, but it’s also the only one that has inducted them in all domains (air, landsea), including on strategic weapons.

Source: InfoBrics

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    • tonyw

      BUT…had they had the Chinese and Taiwanese working on it with the amerikans it probably could have been done.. showing cooperation between countries is the way things should be done.. Pity it has to be on the world depopulation agenda not the well being of a countries population.. this always is the case they would rather kill than cure

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