US Air Force test to launch ultra-fast hypersonic missile fails

(CNN) — The US Air Force’s new hypersonic missile program suffered a blow Monday after it failed to launch from a B-52H Stratofortress bomber aircraft flying from Edwards Air Force Base in California.

“B-52H Stratofortress took off Monday over the Point Mugu Sea Range intending to fire the first booster test vehicle for the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) program. Instead, the test missile was not able to complete its launch sequence and was safely retained on the aircraft which returned to Edwards AFB,” the Air Force said in a statement.

“The ARRW program has been pushing boundaries since its inception and taking calculated risks to move this important capability forward. While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead. This is why we test,” said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the armament directorate program’s executive officer.

Hypersonic missiles are designed to travel at a such a high speed that they can fly great distances and move quickly through heavily defended airspace to attack targets such as harbors, airfields and other installations before they can be successfully shot down.

The weapon is aimed at providing US commanders around the world with “the capability to destroy high-value, time-sensitive targets,” according to an Air Force statement.

The new missile is called an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) and it is expected to be ready for deployment in the next few years. The test was specifically aimed at demonstrating the ability of the ARRW to achieve hypersonic speed.

The Pentagon is aiming to eventually develop a hypersonic missile that can travel at 20 times the speed of sound in a real world military strike, defense officials say, not far off the speed that Space Shuttles traveled when reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. So far, there have been some components tested at speeds near that.

Russia and China are both developing hypersonic weapons programs and Russia claims to have successfully tested a missile. The US is focusing on conventional hypersonic weapons that are based on ships, land and air platforms. Hypersonic weapons broadly fall into two categories: air-breathing missiles and so-called “boost-glide” missiles.

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