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The US Air Force's oldest bomber fired off a new hypersonic weapon in the Pacific, but the missile's future is uncertain

The US Air Force's oldest bomber fired off a new hypersonic weapon in the Pacific, but the missile's future is uncertain
  • The US Air Force tested a new hypersonic missile on a B-52 bomber in the Pacific region.

  • The missile has had limited success in previous testing, resulting in the Air Force going back-and-forth on cancelling it.

  • It's the first time the US has tested a hypersonic weapon in the Western Pacific.

The US Air Force tested a new hypersonic missile on one of its oldest bombers, the B-52H, in the Pacific this past weekend, a major moment for the weapon.

The recent test is the first of its kind by the US in the Western Pacific, a demonstration of strength in an often-tense region, particularly due to increasingly aggressive behavior by China.

An Air Force spokesperson told Business Insider on Wednesday, that "a B-52 Stratofortress conducted a test of the All-Up-Round AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon."

"This test," the spokesman said, "launched a full prototype operational hypersonic missile and focused on the ARRW's end-to-end performance. The test took place at the Reagan Test Site with the B-52 taking off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on March 17, 2024, local time."

Andersen Air Force Base in Guam is a key US military position in the Pacific and regularly hosts Air Force bombers for regional operations. This launch of the ARRW marks the first time the US has tested a hypersonic weapon in the Pacific.

While the Air Force didn't say if the test was successful, the spokesperson noted it "gained valuable insights into the capabilities of this new, cutting-edge technology."

"While we won't discuss specific test objectives," they said, "this test acquired valuable, unique data and was intended to further a range of hypersonic programs. We also validated and improved our test and evaluation capabilities for continued development of advanced hypersonic systems."

A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortess from the 96th Expeditionary Squadron approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker for air refueling after departing Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for a Bomber Task Force mission Feb. 24, 2022.
A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortess from the 96th Expeditionary Squadron approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker for air refueling after departing Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for a Bomber Task Force mission Feb. 24, 2022.U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lawrence Sena

The ARRW program is a long-range hypersonic weapon, specifically a multi-stage, boost-glide weapon with a hypersonic glide body that can maneuver at high speeds of at least five times the speed of sound. Such weapons are difficult to intercept, and the US military, as have its rivals, has heavily prioritized the development of hypersonic weapons in recent years.

The March 17th test is the latest and likely the last involving the ARRW. After its March 2023 test ended in failure, the Air Forced dropped the Lockheed Martin-manufactured weapon, confirming though that it would finish the prototype testing program.

"While the Air Force does not currently intend to pursue follow-on procurement of ARRW once the prototyping program concludes, there is inherent benefit to completing the all-up round test flights to garner the learning and test data that will help inform future hypersonic programs," Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Andrew Hunter said at the time.

That August, the ARRW was tested again, and then it was followed by another in October. In both cases, details were not explicit on whether the missile showed promise, but the Air Force opted to leave the door open on the ARRW's future.

Last week, Air Force Lt. Gen. Dale White, the Military Deputy at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, said: "Future ARRW decisions are pending final analysis of all flight test data." The missile is currently not in the Air Force's fiscal year 2025 budget.

b-52 b 52 pilot cockpit
Aircrew assigned to the 96th Bomb Squadron participate in a RED FLAG-Alaska 10-2 sortie on a B-52H Stratofortress, April 29, 2010, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The aircrew is assigned to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz

The test is yet another interesting moment in the history of the B-52 bomber, an aircraft over half a century old that continues to be important in long-range strategic bomber missions.

There are currently 72 B-52s active, with some in conventional roles and others still able to serve in a nuclear capacity. Others that are no longer active remain in long-term storage at the Air Force's "boneyard" in Arizona.

Among the bomber's strengths are its longevity, formidable airframe, and payload capacity. It continues to receive investment in updating its weapons, communications, and other systems so that the 20th-century aircraft remains relevant in the 21st.

Read the original article on Business Insider