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AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon
ARRW / Arrow

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress successfully released an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, off the Southern California coast, 14 May 2022. Following separation from the aircraft, the ARRW’s booster ignited and burned for expected duration, achieving hypersonic speeds five times greater than the speed of sound.

The ARRW is a conventional, boost-glide, hypersonic weapon consisting of a solid rocket motor booster, a glider protective shroud, and a glider vehicle containing a kinetic energy projectile warhead. A standoff air-to-ground missile launched from a B-52H aircraft, the ARRW is intended to attack high-value, time-sensitive, land-based targets.

The U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin successfully flight tested the second AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) on the service’s B-52 Stratofortress out of Edwards Air Force Base, California, on Aug. 8, 2020. This captive carry flight was conducted with tactical hardware and fully instrumented to collect thermal, mechanical and digital data from the flight vehicle. This is the first time a tactical ARRW missile has been assembled. Additional ground and flight testing will follow over the next two years.

“The team overcame significant challenges driven by the COVID-19 pandemic to achieve this significant milestone for the program,” said Dave Berganini, ARRW program director at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “This captive carry mission is the pre-cursor for our first booster test flight planned for early 2020s.”

Hypersonic weapons provide rapid response, time critical capability that will overcome distance in contested environments using high speed, altitude and maneuverability. An operational hypersonic air-launched weapon enables the U.S. to hold fixed, high value, time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments from stand-off distances. Lockheed Martin has played a significant role in the research, development and demonstration of hypersonic technologies for more than 30 years. The corporation has made significant investments in key technology and capability development. Lockheed Martin developed deep expertise in the engineering of hypersonic systems and associated challenges through work with maneuvering reentry vehicles, air-breathing engine design, avionics, and aero/thermal flight sciences.

ARRW is a Section 804 Rapid Prototyping Middle Tier of Acquisition program leveraging lessons learned from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Tactical Boost Glide vehicle program. The program is currently developing an Integrated Master Test Plan and an Operational Demonstration test plan for DOT&E approval. After completion of the booster rocket flight tests, the program plans to proceed into all-up round (AUR) testing (including live warheads). The Air Force intends to complete at least one AUR test to determine if the system has reached an early operational capability state, before awarding a contract for production. The Air Force will consider transitioning the program from a Rapid Prototyping to a Rapid Fielding program after successfully deploying the ARRW residual capability. The program flight test schedule could be delayed due to the limited number and availability of hypersonic flight corridors, target areas, and test support assets. The program will be competing for these limited resources with other hypersonic programs, including those being developed by the Navy, Army, and Missile Defense Agency.

On August 13, 2018 the Air Force awarded a contract not to exceed $480,000,000 to Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control to begin designing a second hypersonic weapon prototype. This contract seems to have come out of nearly nowhere. FedBizOpps has never heard of anything by this name.

In May 2018 the US Air Force launched an ambitious campaign to expedite development of a hypersonic weapon amid concerns expressed by US officials about tismlar efforts in China and Russia. "I am working with the team on acceleration and I am very confident that a significant acceleration is possible," Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, told Warrior Maven 08 May 20188. The service is willing to move forward with an effective "90 percent" solution instead of waiting many more years for a "100 percent," the acquisitions official told the news outlet. Still, he "was clear not to pinpoint an as-of-yet undetermined timeline," Warrior Maven reported.

A hypersonic weapon or vehicle is one whose speed exceeds five times the speed of sound, or upwards of 3,800 mph, a limit that present propulsion technology can barely reach. The fluid dynamics of air at those speeds behave radically differently than at the slower speeds at which most missiles and jet aircraft travel, presenting unique problems for designers. Roper said the USAF is developing a prototype for an air-launched "boost glide" weapon that accelerates into space before using the force of gravity to hit targets at higher speed on its descent. Further, engineers are developing a second demonstrator for a future "Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon" that relies on more mature technology. The Air Force is collaborating with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on both projects. "The two systems have different flight profiles, payload sizes and provide complementary offensive capabilities," the spokeswoman told Warrior Maven.

This contract will provide the critical design review, test and production readiness support for the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). "We are going to go fast and leverage the best technology available to get hypersonic capability to the warfighter as soon as possible," said Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson.

The ARRW effort is one of two hypersonic weapon prototyping efforts being pursued by the Air Force to accelerate hypersonic research and development. The Air Force is using rapid prototyping authorized by Section 804 of the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act to explore the art-of-the-possible and to advance these technologies to a capability in 2021.

Leaders from the Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency, Air Force, Navy and Army signed a memorandum of agreement June 28 to work cooperatively on hypersonic boost glide technology development. "The Joint Team requires the right mix of agile capabilities to compete, deter and win across the spectrum of competition and conflict," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. "We must push the boundaries of technology and own the high ground in this era of great power competition and beyond."

This undefinitized contract action allows the government to meet urgent needs by authorizing the contractor to begin work before reaching a final settlement on contract terms and conditions, to include a final negotiated price. The contract is expected to be definitized within 180 days of award.

The Air Force's other hypersonic weapon rapid prototyping effort is called the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW). The ARRW and HCSW efforts are developing unique capabilities for the warfighter and each has different technical approaches. The ARRW effort is "pushing the art-of-the-possible" by leveraging the technical base established by the Air Force/DARPA partnership. The HCSW effort is using mature technologies that have not been integrated for an air-launched delivery system.

The Armament Directorate of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center is providing program management of these prototyping efforts.

The U.S. Air Force successfully conducted the first flight test of its AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, on a B-52 Stratofortress aircraft on 12 June 2019 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. A sensor-only version of the ARRW prototype was carried externally by a B-52 during the test to gather environmental and aircraft handling data. The test gathered data on drag and vibration impacts on the weapon itself and on the external carriage equipment of the aircraft. The prototype did not have explosives and it was not released from the B-52 during the flight test. This type of data collection is required for all Air Force weapon systems undergoing development.

“We’re using the rapid prototyping authorities provided by Congress to quickly bring hypersonic weapon capabilities to the warfighter,” said Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. “We set out an aggressive schedule with ARRW. Getting to this flight test on time highlights the amazing work of our acquisition workforce and our partnership with Lockheed Martin and other industry partners.”

The Air Force is leading the way in air-launched hypersonic weapon prototyping efforts. As one of two rapid prototyping hypersonic efforts, ARRW is set to reach early operational capability by fiscal year 2022. “This type of speed in our acquisition system is essential – it allows us to field capabilities rapidly to compete against the threats we face,” Roper said. The flight test serves as the first of many flight tests that will expand the test parameters and capabilities of the ARRW prototype.

Lockheed Martin Missile and Fire Control, Orlando, Florida, on 02 December 2019 was awarded a $988,832,126 definitization modification (PZ0010) to previously-awarded contract FA8681-18-C-0021 for Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon critical design review, test and production readiness support. The contract modification will definitize the contract terms, specifications and price. Work will be performed at Orlando, Florida, and is expected to be completed Dec. 31, 2022. The total cumulative face value of the contract is $988,832,126. Fiscal 2020 research, development, test and evaluation funds are being obligated in the amount of $23,000,000 at the time of award. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is the contracting activity.

Despite prior test flubs, the Air Force had intended to begin fielding ARRWs in 2022, a goal that looked dubious. The Air Force issued the following statement: "On 15 Dec. 2021, the Department of the Air Force attempted a booster test flight of the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) from a B-52 Stratofortress.The launch sequence was aborted before release with an unknown issue. The missile will return to the factory and analysis of the telemetry and onboard data will begin immediately. The program will seek to resume flight test as quickly as possible."

The US Air Force has no plans to buy its first Lockheed Martin-made AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon in the fiscal 2023 budget, a pause on what was once planned to be its first operational hypersonic weapon. According to Defense Department budget documents, the Air Force requested $46.6 million to procure one ARRW missile in FY23. But the service instead will transfer that “sliver of procurement” funding back into the research and development portion of the budget, and no procurement of ARRW is planned in FY23.

The ARRW Integrated Master Test Plan consists mostly of developmental ground and flight testing, and some lethality live fire testing. The Air Force plans to execute an Operational Demonstration using prototype AURs to assess the operational capabilities and limitations of the system. The limited number of test assets will not allow a standard assessment for operational effectiveness, lethality, suitability, and survivability.

In FY21, the program completed five instrumented measurement vehicle captive-carry flight tests to demonstrate initial weapon- aircraft interface integration, as well as proper fit and mechanical function of the weapon with the B-52H aircraft. The ARRW program twice attempted to execute one of the three planned booster test flights with a simulated glider. The booster test flights are intended to demonstrate final weapon-aircraft integration with the production-representative missile, the capability to launch the weapon inside the flight envelope, and proper performance of the booster rocket. Four AUR tests will ensue upon the conclusion of booster flight testing.

The ARRW program executed one successful high-speed ground sled test to demonstrate warhead lethality performance against a variety of component-level targets. It continues to execute its series of six warhead arena tests needed to characterize the warhead fragment mass and velocity distribution in support of the ARRW lethality evaluation. The Air Force plans to use engagement-level and mission-level modeling and simulation (M&S) to assess ARRW survivability against surface-to-air missile systems, anti-aircraft-artillery batteries, and air-to-air missiles.

Hardware and software problems have delayed planned ARRW operational demonstration flights, precluding an initial assessment of any risks to demonstrating the ARRW’s intended operational effectiveness requirements. Instrumented measurement vehicle captive-carry test flights validated the initial weapon-aircraft interface integration, confirmed aircraft mechanical fit and function data, and were used to develop and mature the software for the production-representative missile. These flight tests experienced two unexpected test events, which required a redesign of the fin control system. The Air Force validated all corrective actions in the final captive carry flight before proceeding into booster flight testing.

The first booster test flights experienced an unexpected test event on both attempts. During the first test, the missile, by design, did not separate from the B-52 because the system determined there was a fin actuator problem. The Air Force implemented a corrective action before the second attempt. During the second attempt, the missile experienced an unexpected test event after release from the B-52 aircraft that prevented the booster motor from igniting, leading to a loss of the test asset. The Air Force conducted a Failure Review Board to determine the root cause(s) of the failure and implement corrective actions to the missile system before the next booster test flight. Although the second booster test experienced an unexpected event, it did demonstrate the safe release and separation of the weapon system from the aircraft. The second booster test also validated the fin actuator corrective action.

Lethality testing is ongoing, precluding an initial assessment of ARRW warhead performance. Given the limited number of planned test events, there is risk to demonstrating the ARRW lethal effects against the required tactical and strategic targets.

AGM-183A  Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon AGM-183A  Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon AGM-183A  Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon




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Page last modified: 17-05-2022 16:38:38 ZULU