USAF Acquisition Chief Explains HCSW Termination

Artist's concept of HCSW
Credit: Lockheed Martin

ORLANDO, Florida—The U.S. Air Force terminated one of two hypersonic missile prototypes a year before a planned decision point to divert funding for other priorities and preserve funding for the more advanced high-speed missile, the top acquisition official said Feb. 28.

Lockheed Martin’s contract to develop a prototype of the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW), the Air Force’s variant of the formerly tri-service Common Hypersonic Glide Body program, will be terminated in April. Lockheed’s more advanced design, for the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), will continue.

“I truly, truly hate having to downselect between HCSW and ARRW a year early,” said Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. “The team of Lockheed Martin and our government team were green and ready to get into flight testing in the next year and so you hate to have to take a program that can get to flight test and make a decision a year early.”

John Varley, vice president of hypersonics for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, responded to the Air Force’s HCSW cancellation during a meeting with journalists at the company’s facility here on Feb. 26.

“The Air Force made a very courageous decision earlier than we thought,” Varley said. “But we’ve got to have the agility as a corporation to meet our customer’s changing demands.”

The Air Force needed to finance new priorities in the fiscal 2021 budget plan released on Feb. 10, including standing up the Space Force and investing more than $3 billion over the next five years in the Advanced Battle Management System.

“The reason that we went with ARRW was not that HCSW was bad, but ARRW is smaller so we can carry twice as many on the B-52,” Roper said.

The ARRW design also might be small enough to be integrated on the centerline weapon station of the Boeing F-15EX, Roper said, although that still has not been confirmed. 

Indeed, Boeing displayed a model of an F-15EX at the Air Warfare Symposium here, where Roper spoke to reporters. The model is adorned with a large “Multi-Purpose Booster” on the centerline station that will weigh 7,300 lb. and measure 270 in. long and 30 in. wide. 

Lockheed completed the critical design review milestone on the ARRW prototype on Feb. 27.

Steve Trimble

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