The Battle for Air Supremacy: ARRW Hypersonic Missile Test Failed

On March 13, the US Air Force tested a hypersonic weapon, the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). But this test was not a success.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told lawmakers the ARRW program could be jeopardized. The ARRW initiative has had “some problems in its testing program,” and, according to Kendall, the Air Force is currently “more committed to the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) at the moment than it is to the ARRW .

The End of the ARRW?

The final decision on whether to continue the ARRW program could come in the fiscal year 2025 budget process after a study of the failed March test and possibly two more test launches.

Since they can travel faster than Mach 5 and are extremely agile, hypersonic weapons threaten U.S. air security.

Some US politicians have voiced concern that the country is not doing enough to develop its own hypersonic capabilities despite China and Russia have spent substantial sums developing these weapons for their forces.

The Air Force launched a second fully functional ARRW prototype into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California earlier this month. Still, they remain tight-lipped about the test’s results.

The future of the ARRW

In FY23, the Air Force allocated roughly $115 million for ARRW’s R&D&T&E phase, but in FY2024, the service has not requested any money for acquisitions.

However, HACM received $423 million in fiscal year 23, and the Air Force wants to spend about $382 million on RDT&E from that program in the fiscal year 2024. Service budget documents outline a plan to spend almost $1.5 billion more in HACM between FY25 and FY28.

Air Power Ready for Battle

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has stated that the ARRW hypersonic weapons program could be in jeopardy due to a recent test failure.

 However, the Air Force has two other ARRW prototypes that they plan to test once studies on the failed test are finished. The final decision on whether to continue the program could be part of the fiscal year 2025 budget process.

Meanwhile, the HACM (Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile) program receives increased investment, with $423 million in FY23 and a request for $382 million in RDT&E for FY24. Kendall has stated that HACM has been “reasonably successful” and sees a definite role in the concept in the future.

The Challenge of the Rival Powers

Legislators in the United States are worried that the country is falling behind China and Russia in developing hypersonic capabilities because of the lack of hypersonic weapons for the military. Hypersonic missiles’ extreme speed and agility make them elusive targets for conventional defenses.

The Next Battle in Heaven

The Air Force conducted the second test launch of a fully operational ARRW prototype off the coast of southern California earlier this month but has not released details about its success. The Air Force plans to test two more ARRW prototypes once the studies on the failed test have been completed.

The next battle in the sky is looming, and the Air Force is prepared to meet the challenges and maintain air superiority in the future. 

Investment in advanced technologies and hypersonic weapons will be key to guaranteeing national security and the ability to respond to any threat. Will the ARRW or HACM program be the champion in this arms race? Only time will tell.