Some more work will be required to get the U.S. Air Force's new hypersonic weapon up to speed.
That system, known as the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), is designed to launch in midair from beneath the wing of a carrier plane.
The missile was supposed to do that for the first time on Sunday (April 5), during a powered test flight off the coast of Southern California. But the prototype ARRW booster failed to deploy as planned from its B-52H Stratofortress, and the plane returned to Edwards Air Force Base with the missile still attached.
"The ARRW program has been pushing boundaries since its inception and taking calculated risks to move this important capability forward," Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, Armament Directorate Program Executive Officer, said in an Air Force statement. "While not launching was disappointing, the recent test provided invaluable information to learn from and continue ahead. This is why we test."
Hypersonic vehicles travel at Mach 5 or above — at least five times faster than the speed of sound, which is about 761 mph (1,225 kph) at sea level. The ARRW system, which is built for the Air Force by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, will apparently fly between Mach 6.5 and Mach 8, or 5,000 mph to 6,000 mph (8,050 kph to 9,650 kph), The Drive reported last fall.
Once the booster reaches such speeds, it will deploy an unpowered but maneuverable glide vehicle, which contains the warhead. Such maneuverability is the key differentiator between hypersonics and intercontinental ballistic missiles, which follow predictable trajectories.