B-52 Armed With ‘Live’ Hypersonic AGM-183 Missile Emerges In China’s Backyard; USAF Calls It ‘Training’

The US Air Force has revealed images of a live AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), commonly referred to as ARRW, affixed under the wing of a B-52H bomber at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

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The release of these images by Andersen Air Force Base on February 28 has ignited curiosity and raised questions about the purpose of the deployment of a hypersonic missile at Guam, which is considered the closest US territory to China.

According to the US Air Force, the images featuring the live AGM-183 were taken during the “hypersonic weapon familiarization training,” conducted in Guam on February 27, with the live missile distinguished by its yellow bands in the front and rear segments. One of the images also reveals the missile’s serial number, AR-AUR-005.  

“B-52 Stratofortress crews from the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron participated in hypersonic weapon familiarization training at Anderson Air Base, Guam, Feb. 27,” the service said.

The USAF further stated that the participating crews were provided with expert instructions and training in hypersonic fundamentals, engaging in tactical discussions concerning hypersonic operations to enhance operational readiness and prepare various air force aircraft communities for hypersonic, including the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile, Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, and other programs currently in development.

B-52 Stratofortress crews from the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota and the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, participated in hypersonic weapon familiarization training at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 27, 2024.

“The crews focused on the fundamentals of hypersonics, operational and logistics considerations, and in-depth tactical discussions,” the service added.

During a similarly-described hypersonic weapons training event at Edwards Air Force Base in California in 2023, another live ARRW bearing the serial number AR-AUR-004, along with a glimpse of a secretive air-breathing hypersonic cruise missile under development by the Air Force, were also observed in pictures.

Meanwhile, the latest appearance of the missile at Guam raises eyebrows, given the US Air Force’s earlier announcement of its intention to discontinue the troubled AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic weapon program.

The decision to abandon the AGM-183 ARRW stems from its multiple failures, prompting the Air Force to forego further procurement of the ARRW post-prototyping program and instead concentrate on the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile.

Presence Of US Hypersonic Missile Near China

The release of these photos is significant, given Guam’s strategic location in the Indo-Pacific region. Some reports suggest that this marks the first instance of a US hypersonic weapon being observed in such proximity to China.

The purpose behind the AGM-183’s presence in Guam remains a mystery, especially considering the Air Force’s prior announcement of its intention to discontinue the ARRW program.

Currently, no definitive signs indicate the Air Force’s intentions to conduct a live-fire ARRW test from Guam, although the possibility remains under consideration.

If such a test were to occur, it would serve not only as a display of power in the Pacific area but also communicate strategic signals to potential rivals, notably China and Russia.

Initially slated to be the United States’ first operational hypersonic weapon, the trajectory of the ARRW has become increasingly uncertain over time, with years of flight testing producing mixed results.

AGM-183 ARRW – Wikipedia

Despite the program’s interruption, the Air Force asserts that completing the test flights will provide invaluable learning and test data for future hypersonic endeavors.

ARRW consists of an unpowered hypersonic boost-glide vehicle and a large rocket booster, accelerating the missile to optimum speed and altitude before releasing the glide vehicle. It glides at hypersonic speeds along a shallow path, offering maneuverability.

While the US lags behind China in hypersonic technology, the US government is actively striving to rapidly deploy operational hypersonic systems.

Between April 2021 and May 2022, the Air Force initiated the initial five live-fire tests of AGM-183. These tests showcased a spectrum of outcomes, ranging from two failures to two complete successes and one partial success.

On December 9, 2022, the successful execution of the first comprehensive end-to-end test took place. Since March 2023, the momentum of live-fire testing for ARRW has persisted, witnessing at least three additional end-to-end tests.

The initial test in March 2023 concluded in failure, and the subsequent launches in August and October 2023 saw few details being released.

Despite previous plans to terminate the program, the ARRW program, in Fiscal Year 2024, is slated to undertake further testing initiatives.

These flights aim to validate the launch conditions envelope and assess the flight characteristics of the ARRW. Specifically, AUR test flights will target land-based objectives.