10:38 GMT25 July 2021
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    The US Air Force announced on Wednesday it has for the first time successfully detonated the warhead that will sit at the ultra-maneuverable tip of the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), a hypersonic missile currently under development. However, the missile itself has so far failed to fire.

    Little information about the test was given, including when it was performed or the size of the warhead, but Eglin Air Force Base in Florida did note the difficulties in designing the first-of-its-kind test.

    “The 780th TS [Test Squadron] successfully designed and conducted the test to ensure the customer’s data requirements were met using new and improved test tools, technologies, and techniques,” the base said in a news release. “This successful test positioned Eglin’s test team to remain at the forefront to support the testing of hypersonic weapons long into the future.”

    The warhead will one day be placed in the unpowered boost-glide vehicle at the front of the powerful missile, which will accelerate the vehicle to speeds in excess of 5,000 miles per hour before detaching and allowing it to zip towards it target on a dodgy and unpredictable course intended to confound interceptors and keep its destination a mystery. The weapon is only useful against ground-based targets.

    However, what was intended to be the rocket’s first test in April 2021 was a big flop after the B-52 Stratofortress bomber carrying the massive weapon encountered an unspecified problem and the ARRW failed to detach.

    Last month, Gen. Timothy M. Ray, head of Global Strike Command, said that the Air Force intended to try again sometime in July. A recent set of maritime safety warnings posted on Tuesday for July 10 off the coast of California suggest the test could be coming on Saturday, since they very closely parallel the warning areas delimited prior to the would-be April ARRW test.

    ​However, as Dutch scientist and satellite watcher Marco Langbroek noted, the warning areas line up with the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands north of Hawaii, which could mean the test would be of a totally different projectile. The Air Force said before the April test that it was only testing the rocket motor, and that the ersatz vehicle it “launched” would quickly disintegrate. 

    While the US has several hypersonic weapons in development, none are yet in service, giving Russia and China, both of which have fielded at least one hypersonic weapon each, a momentary advantage. During recent military drills by the US and its allies off the Russian coast in the Black Sea, Russia put its Avangard and Kinzhal hypersonic missiles on standby and has also deployed the Kinzhal, a hypersonic cruise missile, to Syria. A third Russian missile, the Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile, is expected to be tested again before the summer is out.

    Related:

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    US Navy Successfully Tests First Hypersonic Missile Motor
    Tags:
    US Air Force, test, warhead, hypersonic missiles
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