The Air Force plans to buy at least eight prototype ARRWs, some of which could potentially be used to field a limited operational arsenal of these weapons in the coming years. The service’s present goal is to reach initial operational capability with the weapon in September 2022.
However, the program is already running behind schedule and this timeline might not be met. It has seen costs spiral by nearly 40 percent and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a Congressional watchdog, has warned there could be further delays.
Of course, that the B-52 will become the service’s principal platform for the carriage of air-launched hypersonic weapons should come as no surprise, as we at The War Zone have discussed before. The Stratofortress is particularly well suited to fulfilling this role compared to other existing American combat aircraft.
Gebara also confirmed that the B-52 will be able to carry two ARRWs on each of its two underwing pylons. A four-missile load-out is something that we previously anticipated here.
Regardless of which platform carries the ARRW, it’s clear that it will provide the Air Force with a significantly enhanced short or no-notice strike capability, especially against time-critical or otherwise high-value and highly defended targets — providing the next phase of test work proves successful. Combined with its speed and level atmospheric flight profile, the boost-glide vehicle will be able to maneuver in flight, making it even tougher for hostile air defenses to defeat. We explained more about the advances offered by hypersonic weapons in this previous article.
We also now know ARRW has a range of at least 1,000 miles, which will allow its launch platform to remain outside the reach of hostile defenses, at least in most cases.
It’s an area in which the United States is now concentrating its efforts in a bid to match similar developments in both China and Russia.
It is certainly interesting to hear a leading Air Force official muse about the speed of the service’s new hypersonic missile, and the weapon’s ability to strike targets hundreds of miles away in mere minutes makes it clear why the service is so keen to get it into service quickly. However, there are plenty more hurdles to overcome before it becomes an operational part of the U.S. Air Force inventory.
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