USAF Stages ARRW Captive-Carry Test, Merges DARPA Payload

A B-52H flew with two AGM-183A captive-carry vehicles during an Aug. 8 test.
Credit: Matt Williams/U.S. Air Force

A U.S. Air Force B-52H on Aug. 8 completed the second and final instrumented measurement vehicle test flight of the Lockheed Martin AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), and the Air Force announced the payload for a previously separate risk-reduction program will be merged into the ARRW flight-test vehicles.

The latest trial by the 419th Flight Test Sqdn. (FLTS) at Edwards AFB, California, confirmed that the Navy’s sea-range ground stations at Point Mugu, California, can receive transmissions of telemetry and GPS data from the instrumented measurement vehicle, the Air Force said in an Aug. 8 news release. 

The second test appears to clear the Air Force to move forward with a series of powered test flights of the AGM-183A, beginning with a booster flight test before year-end.

“The entire team is excited to take the next step and begin energetic flight test of our first air-launched hypersonic weapons,” said Lt. Col. Michael Jungquist, commander of the 419th FLTS and director of the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force.

Members of the 419th Flight Test Sqdn. loaded the Lockheed Martin AGM-183A Instrumented Measurement Vehicle 2 onto the left-wing inboard pylon of a B-52. Credit: Giancarlo Casem/U.S. Air Force

The statement indicates that the Air Force has made a fundamental change to the original test plan for the Defense Department’s only development program air-launched hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). 

When the Air Force launched the ARRW program in 2017, service officials expected to leverage flight-test data from the Tactical Boost-Glide (TBG) program, which is funded jointly by DARPA and the Air Force. The TBG and ARRW were expected to use a similar, if not identical, high lift-to-drag-ratio HGV. DARPA planned to complete flight tests of the TBG in 2019, so the performance data could be used to inform any changes necessary for ARRW, which completed the critical design review in February 2020. 

The Air Force now acknowledges for the first time that DARPA has previously completed two captive-carry tests of the TBG demonstration system. Instead of continuing a separate series of flight tests, the TBG demonstration system “will be integrated into the ARRW payload,” the Air Force said. 

“We are in a competition and must remain diligent in our efforts to stay ahead of our adversaries, who are vigorously pursuing similar weapon systems,” said Gen. Arnold Bunch, head of the Air Force Materiel Command.

It is not clear when the TBG captive-carry tests were staged, but the Aug. 8 event comes 416 days after the 419th FLTS completed a captive-carry test of the first instrumented measurement vehicle for the AGM-183A. 

For the second test on Aug. 8, the Air Force loaded both AGM-183A captive-carry vehicles onto the inboard pylon of the left wing of a B-52 nicknamed “Dragon’s Inferno.”
 Unlike the white-painted, first instrumented test vehicle, the second captive-carry version of the AGM-183A emerged in an operational, two-tone gray scheme, with the nose section painted a few shades darker than the booster section. The second instrumented measurement vehicle also was adorned with a new logo, featuring a skeletal figure firing an arrow over two Latin words, “celeri responsio,” which means “rapid response.”

The Air Force plans to fire the AGM-183A at the most heavily guarded targets, using the weapon’s agility at hypersonic speed to evade missile defenses. The Air Force expects to field the first four AGM-183As by the end of fiscal 2022. The booster tests this year and next year will be followed by flight tests of the all-up round, including the release of the TBG-derived HGV payload, starting in October 2021. 

“This capability will directly support our warfighters. Hypersonic weapons further enable the U.S. to hold any target at risk in any environment anywhere,” said Gen. Tim Ray, the head of Air Force Global Strike Command.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.