Related Video Above: Hypersonic Weapons
When the Air Force arms an upgraded variant of its classic B-52 bomber, it will become the first service to deploy a hypersonic weapon, a massive development which could not come soon enough as far as the Pentagon is concerned.
The service will acquire the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) as soon as next year, a development which of course introduces a paradigm-changing air attack possibility.
“We are going to field hypersonic weapons very shortly,” Lt. Gen. David Nahom, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, told The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
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Certainly the range and speed of an ARRW, the B-52 might be in a position to targets and destroy enemy air defenses without placing itself within striking range, a situation which opens up new attack options for a large, non-stealthy aircraft. While the large B-52 is by all means capable of Stand-In weapons attacks, when armed with an ARRW hypersonic missile, it could bring new Stand-Off tactical options for commanders and possibly even function as a flying command and control node.
As a boost-glide weapon, the ARRW skips off the upper boundaries of the earth’s atmosphere before using its speed of descent to propel itself down onto a target. The Air Force decision to buy twelve in 2022 suggests that the weapon is fast reaching new levels of maturity as it progresses toward operational service. This would indicate that developers have managed to address certain challenges known to be central to achieving successful hypersonic flight.
Firing the ARRW might give the B-52 an unprecedented ability to softed up or even destroy enemy air defenses, therefore reducing the need to send fighter jets into hostile territory above hostile areas armed with advanced air defenses. In this respect, the ARRW could help perform functions typically thought of as being performed by a stealthy bomber or 5th-generation stealth fighters and help open up an “air corridor” for fighter aircraft to attack without being targeted by air defenses. Air defenses are often targeted by ship or submarine fired Tomahawk cruise missiles, stealth bombers or even long-range land-fired missiles, so having such attacks launched from the air at stand-off ranges introduces new airwar options.
The timing of the ARRW’s arrival is quite significant considering the widely discussed reality that the U.S. may be “number 3” in the hypersonic arms race behind both China and Russia.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox