US Air Force’s Newest Hypersonic Missile Will Travel at Staggering Speeds of Mach 20

After three failed attempts, the Air Force successfully launched a lethal AGM-183A ARRW hypersonic missile from a Boeing B-52.
AGM-183A ARRW on a B-52

The Lockheed Martin AGM-183A ARRW is an advanced hypersonic missile… and the latest American weapon to counter Russia and China’s advancements in developing hypersonic technology.

This new USAF test occurs at a time of heightened tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine – and it is a clear response to Russia’s use of hypersonic missiles against Ukraine.

Will this hypersonic missile make any difference at war? Is it more advanced than the Chinese or Russian hypersonic missiles?

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New tech on a veteran aircraft

B-52 hypersonic missile
B-52s Day by Zachary Wright. Public Domain.

It’s amazing to see the B-52 Stratofortress with hypersonic missiles. The B-52 was designed to carry nuclear weapons during the first stages of the Cold War to nuke the Soviet Union. Now, with these missiles, it is ready to threaten Russia again in the 21st century by carrying hypersonic missiles.

It wasn’t easy to get this hypersonic missile ready

The missile was launched over the Pacific Ocean after three unsuccessful attempts.

Last year, the US experienced severe setbacks when the missile booster failed to ignite, resulting in the missile dropping into the sea.

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On two of the failed attempts, it didn’t even separate from the B-52’s wing, and the closest it came to a successful deployment was on the second attempt, when the missile managed to separate from the bomber’s wing but still fell into the sea.

But this time, everything went according to plan, and the missile did reach hypersonic speeds (Five times the speed of sound or Mach 5). Actually, this missile is capable of reaching Mach 20. That is, twenty times the speed of sound (15,345 mph / 24,695 km/h) from a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber.

This missile is so fast that it’s nearly impossible to stop, and the program is fully funded. So, by 2023, it could even be operational if there are no further issues.

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AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon ARRW

Air Force conducts latest hypersonic weapon flight test
Air Force conducts latest hypersonic weapon flight test by Giancarlo Casem. Public Domain.

The AGM-183A ARRW aims to destroy high-value targets with groundbreaking speed,  high maneuverability, and a trajectory that makes interception almost impossible. 

The ARRW consists of a launcher that thrusts the missile to a specified speed and altitude. Once propelled, the projectile is released and flies towards its target at Mach 20.

Few details are known about the AGM-183A ARRW because most of the data is still classified. However, the USAF disclosed the following specifications:

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  • Manufacturer: Lockheed Martin
  • Operational range: 1000 miles (1600 kilometers)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 20 (15,345 mph, 24,695 km/h)
  • Launch platform: B-1B / B-52 / F-15

The hypersonic arms race is accelerating

China, Russia, and the US are engaged in a hypersonic missile arms race.

Last year, Moscow succeeded in firing a Zircon missile from a warship. Then, this year, they tested the Sarmat.

Moreover, Russia recently became the first country to use hypersonic weapons in warfare when it fired its Iskander missile and  Kinzhal in Ukraine. 

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Also, China test-fired a hypersonic missile reaching its target. Meanwhile, the U.S. successfully tested its HAWC hypersonic weapon and this AGM-183A ARRW missile.

1024px AGM 183A ARRW on a B 52 June 2019 190612 F HP195 0095
AGM-183A ARRW on a B-52 by US Air Force

The central issue is that hypersonic weapons tests have significant military and geopolitical effects because they are hard to detect and almost unstoppable with today’s defensive systems. For this reason, hypersonic missiles and ICBM are the biggest threats today.

The US is pushing to get this revolutionary weapon ready for the battlefield as soon as possible

The Air Force has had troubles with AGM-183A ARRW testing in the past, and the program suffered three flight test failures prior to this latest success. 

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But, this breakthrough weapon system is almost ready, and probably from next year, the B-52, B-1B, and F-15 will be able to deploy these lethal hypersonic missiles.


Featured image credit: AGM-183A ARRW on a B-52 by U.S. Air Force. Public Domain