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Arms Race: US Prepares Test of Hypersonic Missile Capable of Reaching 15,000 Mph After Launch from Space

Hypersonic Space Missile Appears in Air Force Photographs
Source: U.S. Air Force

AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon program was reportedly scrapped a year ago.

Mar. 7 2024, Published 11:06 a.m. ET

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The revival of a once-abandoned program within the U.S. military has sparked intrigue as the Air Force recently unveiled operational images of the AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) deployed from Guam, the closest U.S. territory to China.

The unveiling of these images from the South Pacific has drawn attention due to the proximity to China and the previous perception of the program being shelved by the Air Force a year prior.

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The AGM-183 was affixed to a B-52 Stratofortress bomber as part of a training exercise aimed at familiarizing crews with hypersonic missile operations.

Although the AGM-183 stands as the sole successfully tested hypersonic weapon in the U.S., it remains a considerable distance away from being battlefield ready.

The weapon is theoretically capable of traveling at speeds of 15,000 miles per hour utilizing a "boost-glide" mechanism, which enables it to maneuver towards its target once released.

This technology holds strategic significance as it could enable the U.S. military to engage targets from space.

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The concept involves launching the missile into orbit, releasing the payload into space and then re-entering the atmosphere to strike the intended target. Additionally, the Air Force asserts that B-52 bombers can accommodate up to four of these missiles, providing flexibility in deployment.

However, assessments from the U.S. Military’s Operational Test and Evaluation highlight significant challenges. Instances such as missile detachment failures and booster engine malfunctions have impeded the program's progress. These setbacks have delayed operational demonstration flights, hindering a comprehensive assessment of the weapon's effectiveness.

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Despite setbacks, there have been reported successful tests recently, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine.

If tested in Guam, it would mark the furthest deployment of the AGM-183 from the California coast. The contract for this weapon lies with Lockheed Martin, which emphasizes the importance of hypersonic technology in maintaining battlefield superiority and national defense.

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The resurgence of interest in hypersonic weaponry comes amid China's advancements in the field. China's purported testing of a nuclear-capable hypersonic weapon in 2021, which allegedly circled the globe before missing its target, underscored the progress of Beijing's military modernization efforts.

This development has prompted a reassessment of the Chinese military's capabilities, with hypersonic technology becoming a focal point for strategic competition.


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