By Mike Stone
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Air Force successfully tested a Lockheed Martin Corp hypersonic missile this week, sources familiar with the efforts said on Wednesday, amid growing concerns Russia and China have had more success developing their own hypersonic weapons.
The U.S. Air Force successfully tested its Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) booster on Tuesday off the California coast, according to the sources. The ARRW is carried aloft under the wing of plane before it is launched toward its target. In previous tests, the weapon did not detach from the plane.
Hypersonic weapons travel in the upper atmosphere at speeds of more than five times the speed of sound, or about 6,200 km (3,853 miles) per hour.
In a separate successful hypersonic weapon test recently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) demonstrated its Operational Fires program, two people familiar with the matter said.
The successful tests show progress among the myriad U.S. hypersonic weapons development efforts, which have in cases been beleaguered by failed tests, growing questions about cost and increasing concerns the United States is falling behind in what has become a superpower arms race.
Operational Fires is a ground-launched system that will “rapidly and precisely engage critical, time-sensitive targets while penetrating modern enemy air defenses.” DARPA has requested and received $45 million for OpFires in fiscal year 2022.
One of Lockheed Martin’s concepts for the DARPA weapon is to use an exiting High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launcher, like those sent to Ukraine, to launch the weapon.
These successful tests come after failed a June 29 test flight of a different type of hypersonic weapon, the Common Hypersonic Glide Body, at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii.
Defense contractors hope to capitalize on the shift to hypersonic weapons not only by building them, but also by developing new detection and defeat mechanisms.
Arms makers like Lockheed, Northrop Grumman Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp have all touted their hypersonic weapons programs to investors as the world’s focus shifted to the new arms race for an emerging class of weapon.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis)