Why Both China & Russia Have ‘Officially Surpassed’ The US In Hypersonic Missile Program?

The US suffered a major setback in its hypersonic missile program on Monday after it failed to launch a  missile from a B-52H bomber.

According to the US Air Force statement, the B-52H Stratofortress took off 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.

The test missile failed to complete its launch sequence and was safely retained on the aircraft which returned to the base, it added.

“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, Armament Directorate Program Executive Officer.

USAF personnel working on an AGM-183A captive carry test article loaded on a B-52H bomber (Photo USAF)

The US Air Force said that this would have been the eighth flight test for the ARRW program following seven captive carriage missions. The missile launch test had many objectives, which included demonstrating the safe release of the booster test vehicle from the B‑52H as well as assessing booster performance, booster-shroud separation, and simulated glider separation, a press release by the force announced.

“Since the vehicle was retained, engineers and testers will be able to explore the defect and return the vehicle back to test,” it said.

The country’s ARRW program envisages the delivery of a conventional hypersonic weapons capability to the warfighter in the early 2020s.

Designed to provide the ability to destroy high-value, time-sensitive targets, the weapon system also seeks to expand precision-strike weapon systems’ capabilities by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets.

The ARRW booster test vehicle is designed to achieve the high speeds required to deliver the glide vehicle and embedded ordnance package to designated targets. The air force had in an earlier statement said the program followed a “rigorous systems engineering process with extensive ground and flight test campaigns to ensure a well-executed BTF event; BTF-1 will be the eighth flight test for the ARRW program, following seven captive carriage flight tests.”

The CNN observed that the test failure “was a setback to the US, which is engaged in a race with China and Russia to develop hypersonic weapons at a time of increased global tensions.” The US is desirous of designing a hypersonic missile with the ability to travel 20 times the speed of sound.

Russia and China have both claimed to have carried out hypersonic weapons tests, with Russia having successfully carried out the test.

The Russian media in December 2019 reported that the country had already inducted the hypersonic missile system, called the Avangard, into service. Avangard is reported to have an intercontinental range, with a speed nearing Mach 20, more than 15,000 mph.

China is also developing hypersonic systems at an aggressive pace, with huge investments in test facilities and engineering expertise. The country claims to have successfully tested the DF-17, a road-mobile medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) designed to launch a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV).

It has a reported range of 1,800-2,500 kilometers. Other HGVs include the DF-ZF, with a range of 1,600-2,400 km and a speed of Mach 5 – Mach 10.  China is also reportedly deploying these vehicles on its DF-21 and DF-26 theater-range ballistic missiles.

With its two rival powers ramping up their hypersonic weapons capabilities, the US is lagging behind in the race, with a collapse in research and funding for such projects. The hypersonic weapons are thought to be the ultimate game-changers in future warfare, and any country lacking in such capabilities is bound to suffer immensely.

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