Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. Air Force plans to deploy an operational “hypersonic glide weapon” with a conventional warhead by 2021 even as it recognizes the strides China has made to develop this next generation weapon.
The newest (among many) Air Force program that intends to give the U.S. a decided edge in hypersonic weaponry is the “Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon” (ARRW, pronounced “Arrow”), for which Lockheed Martin Corporation is the prime contractor. Lockheed last week received a contract from the Air Force to develop ARRW, which is expected to fly at more than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5 or 6,000 km/h).
The $480 million contract (Lockheed’s second since April to develop hypersonics) will allow Lockheed to begin designing a second hypersonic prototype. The Air Force hopes to have an operational ARRW by 2021.
“We are going to go fast and leverage the best technology available to get hypersonic capability to the warfighter as soon as possible,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
Last April, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a contract to develop a prototype hypersonic cruise missile, the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW). That project could cost as much as $928 million over the course of its lifetime.
Lockheed said HCSW is pushing the art-of-the-possible by leveraging the technical base established by the partnership between the Air Force and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The HCSW effort is using mature technologies that have not been integrated for an air-launched delivery system.
The second contract award comes after Pentagon officials said they fear the U.S. might be lagging behind China and Russia in hypersonics.
“We have lost our technical advantage in hypersonics. We haven’t lost the hypersonics fight,” said Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Air Force Gen. Paul Selva in January. “China has made it a national program, so China’s willing to spend tens to up to hundreds of billions to solve the problem of hypersonic flight, hypersonic target designation, and then ultimately engagement.”
Last June, the Department of Defense, the Missile Defense Agency, Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Army signed a memorandum to cooperate and help develop “hypersonic boost glide” technology.
“We must push the boundaries of technology and own the high ground in this era of great power competition and beyond,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
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