Air Force to Army B‑52 With Hypersonic Missiles

 In Land, Russia, Air, Forces & Capabilities

Video Above: Air Force, Raytheon Upgrade Weapons to Respond to New Threats

by Peter Suciu

Last week the Russian mil­i­tary successfully test-firedTsirkon hypersonic missile, which was fired from the frigate Admiral Goshkov and it hit a target at sea 450 km (rough­ly 280 miles) away. This is cer­tain­ly a con­cern to U.S. mil­i­tary plan­ners as hyper­son­ic weapons have the capa­bil­i­ty to unleash massive destruction. Able to travel at five times the speed of sound and with the abil­i­ty to maneu­ver with com­put­er­ized pre­ci­sion that could make it difficult to counter, a hyper­son­ic missile’s speed and force is so sig­nif­i­cant that it can inflict damage by sheer “kinet­ic” impact with­out even need­ing explo­sives.

However, the United States is devel­op­ing its own hyper­son­ic mis­sile, the forth­com­ing AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid-Response Weapon (ARRW), which could fly at speeds between 5,000 and 6,000 miles per hour — rough­ly between Mach 6.5 and Mach 8. At such speed the ARRW (report­ed­ly pro­nounced “Arrow”) could hit a target 1,000 miles away in just ten to twelve min­utes. The mis­sile is made up of a solid-fuel rocket boost­er that is topped by an unpow­ered boost-glide vehi­cle; and the rocket boost­er can propel the mis­sile to hyper­son­ic speeds after which the glide vehi­cle detach­es and con­tin­ues to the target.

Earlier this month Maj. Gen. Andrew Gebara, direc­tor of strate­gic plans, pro­grams and require­ments for the Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) dis­closed the infor­ma­tion about the ARRW in an interview with Air Force Magazine.

Something Old and Something New

What is espe­cial­ly note­wor­thy about the United States’ first hyper­son­ic weapon is that this twenty-first-cen­tu­ry tech­no­log­i­cal marvel will be car­ried on the United States Air Force bombers that first flew in the early stages of the Cold War. Gebara told Air Force Magazine that the sixty-year-old B-52 bombers are being “reinvigorated” with upgrades that could keep the aging work­hors­es in the sky for at least anoth­er thirty years.

The Air Force has already spent a report­ed $1.4 bil­lion upgrad­ing the B‑52 and could spent an addi­tion­al $3.8 bil­lion over the next five years. But it could be a lot of bang for the buck.

AFGSC’s improve­ments to the fleet of sev­en­ty-five B‑52s — the last actu­al­ly was built in 1963 — will boost the range, power, sen­sors and notably the bomb-car­ry­ing capac­i­ty. The B‑52s have been steadi­ly under­go­ing these updates to the radar and engines, but the changes are so sig­nif­i­cant that the air­craft could be redes­ig­nat­ed from B‑52H to either B‑52H+ or B‑52J.

“It is going to … be a very dif­fer­ent B‑52 than what I flew as a lieu­tenant,” Gebara said during the inter­view.

Among the biggest improve­ments for the bombers will be the abil­i­ty to carry the new AGM-181 Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) nuclear cruise missile, but also the ARRW.

The first launch­es of the AGM-183A pro­to­types are set to take place a year from now in October 2021 TheDrive reported. Defense giant Lockheed Martin first received the con­tract to devel­op the ARRW in 2018, and the first cap­tive-carry test of the hyper­son­ic mis­sile plat­form was con­duct­ed on a B‑52H at Edwards Air Force Base in California in 2019. While the pro­gram has been run­ning behind sched­ule, the last such test of the mis­sile was car­ried out this past August.

The Air Force, which intends to buy at least eight pro­to­types for fur­ther test­ing, has set a goal of reach­ing oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty of the ARRW by September 2022.

– Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

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

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