In the interests of the US armed forces, a number of hypersonic missile systems of various classes with various capabilities are currently being developed. The first developments in this area are already entering flight tests, according to the results of which they will be able to enter service. However, the future of these complexes is still uncertain. The events and events of the outgoing 2021 have shown that the hypersonic program is facing significant difficulties.
The American hypersonic program currently provides for the development of a large number of promising missile systems of various kinds. New samples are being created for the ground forces, for the Air Force and the Navy. At the same time, both independent samples and unified weapons for different types of troops are offered.
This year, the main news from the United States on hypersonic topics were associated with only two promising developments. These are the AGM-183A ARRW air-launched cruise missile and the LRHW Dark Eagle ground complex. As reported aviation the ammunition has already been brought to flight tests, and the ground system is still only preparing for them.
It should be noted that the news about these projects is not yet conducive to optimism. So, the ARRW product has never completed a test flight program, which negatively affects the progress of the project and the entire hypersonic direction. The LRHW project, despite some movement forward, has not yet demonstrated its capabilities.
Difficulties in the test phase — observable and anticipated — lead to known risks. First of all, they negatively affect the timing of the work and delay the start of rearmament. In addition, in the hypersonic sphere, the United States is already lagging behind Russia and China, and the failure of their projects may lead to a gradual widening of the gap.
Failure in the air
The greatest success among American projects is now shown by the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon rocket project. Unlike other developments, it has already entered flight tests, during which it must confirm the calculated characteristics. However, experimental missiles are not yet able to cope with this task.
Flight tests of the ARW-183A began in 2019 with export flights. The B-52H flying laboratory carried the rocket under the wing and collected the necessary data, but the product was not dropped. Until the end of 2020, six such missions were carried out, which ensured the collection of the necessary information and preparation for subsequent events.
The first attempt to dump and independently fly an ARRW rocket was carried out on April 5, 2021. As it became known later, the carrier aircraft carried out all the necessary procedures, prepared the rocket, but was unable to drop it. The reasons for this and the nature of the problems encountered were not specified.
Soon, in May, another export flight took place, the purpose of which was to check control systems weapons carrier aircraft and testing of the onboard equipment of the rocket. At a great distance from the base, the B-52H received the necessary information and prepared the missile for release and flight.
The next test launch of ARW-183A was scheduled for July 28, 2021. During this test, the bomber successfully completed all launch preparation procedures and then dropped the rocket. The product was supposed to go to the designated target, but this did not happen. For some unknown reason, the rocket did not start the engine, and then fell into the ocean.
The last test launch attempt at the moment took place on December 15 and was also unsuccessful. Due to an unknown failure, the preparative procedure was interrupted. The launch failed, and the B-52H returned to the airfield with a rocket under its wing. The developers of the project will have to study all the information collected, find the causes of the incident and modify the means of the missile system in order to avoid its repetition.
ARRW project schedule is for FY2021. several test launches were to take place, incl. with the successful implementation of the flight program and the defeat of the training target. Thereafter, for FY2022. it was planned to purchase the first pre-production batch of 12 missiles for further activities. Then in FY2023. or later, the Pentagon was going to deploy full-scale production and adopt the AGM-183A into service.
Battery of the LRHW complex in position
The first part of these plans has already been thwarted. Despite all efforts, three flight tests ended in failure. Finding and fixing technical problems will take some time, and then it will be necessary to conduct a new stage of flight tests and confirm the successful getting rid of the shortcomings. At the same time, it is necessary to fulfill the originally planned flight test program.
Depending on the nature of the problems identified and the complexity of their fix, the AGM-183A may take at least several months to complete. Then some time will have to be spent on the next stage of testing. It is unlikely that these works will meet the approved schedule, and the launch of production by the end of FY2022. now looks unlikely.
"Eagle" in the army
A hypersonic missile system for ground forces LRHW or Dark Eagle is currently being prepared for flight tests. The design work for this system has already been completed. In addition, the necessary tests of various components and means of the complex were carried out, including the planning hypersonic warhead.
In mid-September, one of the units of the ground forces handed over the means of an experimental LRHW complex. These are two towed launchers with tractors, a unified command post AFATDS 7.0 and several transport and launch containers with missile dummies. Now the personnel are mastering this technique and preparing for testing.
According to current plans, the first launch of a hypersonic missile from an experienced LRHW will take place in the coming weeks or months. During 2022, the Pentagon is going to conduct a series of flight tests, which will have to confirm the design characteristics and capabilities of the missiles. With the successful implementation of such plans, in 2023 the deployment of LRHW in the troops will begin with the organization of experimental combat duty.
Reason for optimism
The exact date of the first flight of the LRHW rocket has not yet been announced. In addition, the timing of the entire cycle of flight and other tests is questionable. It is obvious that all launches and production will be completed in 2022-23. will succeed only in the absence of serious problems of a technical or other nature. Otherwise, the schedule for Dark Eagle will also need to be adjusted.
It should be noted that the Pentagon has reason to be optimistic about the LRHW project. The fact is that ready-made and used components are widely used as part of the new complex. So, it includes a unified command post, launchers are built on serial semi-trailers, and the Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) planning warhead passed flight tests in 2017 and 2020.
However, the use of finished products is not a guarantee of success. The ARRW aircraft complex was also built using existing components, but this did not help it during testing. Whether the overland LRHW will manage not to face the same problems is a big question.
Plans for the future
There has been some progress in the US hypersonic program, but there are also serious difficulties. At the same time, several projects of real weapons for the troops are being developed at once, and some of them have already been brought to the stage of full-fledged tests, which can be considered a success. However, this success is overshadowed by regular challenges in trials and impending missed deadlines.
This year's news suggests that the US hypersonic program is still out of schedule. The likelihood of completing ARRW and LRHW projects on time is constantly decreasing. At the same time, the problems of the two most successful projects can negatively affect other developments and further worsen the general condition of the entire direction.
Thus, the situation in the US hypersonic program remains difficult. None of the new models of hypersonic weapons have yet been accepted into service, and their development is facing serious problems. At the same time, the main geopolitical opponents have already created similar or different systems and put them on alert. Time will tell whether the Pentagon and industry will be able to cope with all the problems and close the existing gap.