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One of America's oldest bombers just took flight with the Air Force's newest hypersonic weapon for the first time

Business Insider | Jun 14, 2019, 02.55AM IST

B-52

US Air Force/Senior Airman Luke Hill

B-52

  • A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bomber took flight with the service's new hypersonic weapon for the first time on Wednesday.
  • The AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) being tested was an inactive prototype that the Air Force used to evaluate effects on both the weapon and the aircraft.
  • The new weapon, one of several hypersonic systems being developed by the Air Force, is expected to be operational by fiscal year 2022.
  • Visit Business Insider's home page for more stories.

America's longest-serving bomber just took flight with a new air-launched hypersonic weapon for the first time, the US Air Force announced Thursday.

A B-52 Stratofortress heavy, long-range bomber took to the skies over Edwards Air Force Base in California on Wednesday with an inactive, sensor-only prototype of the new AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), one of a handful of hypersonic weapons the Air Force is developing for the B-52s.

Hypersonic weapons are a key research and development area in the ongoing arms race between great power rivals Russia, China, and the US. Hypersonics are particularly deadly because of their high speeds, in excess of Mach 5, and their maneuverability, which gives them the ability to evade enemy air-and-missile defense systems.

The hypersonic weapon carried by the B-52 on Wednesday did not contain explosives and was not released during testing, the Air Force said, explaining that the focus of the test was to gather data on drag and vibration effects on the weapon, as well as evaluate the external carriage equipment.

B 52 bomber refuel

US Air Force

A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress behind a KC-135 Stratotanker over the North Sea, January 19, 2018.

For the B-52, a non-stealth bomber that might struggle to skirt enemy air defenses, the stand-off capability provided by a weapon like the ARRW helps keep the decades-old aircraft relevant even as the US prepares to fight wars against high-end opponents.

Stand-off is one area the US military has been looking closely at as it upgrades its B-52s to extend their service life.

Read more: A B-52 bomber shows how it can lay a devastating minefield at sea from nearly 50 miles away in a warning to US rivals

The Air Force, much like the Army and Navy, is pursuing hypersonic weapons technology as quickly as possible.

"We're using the rapid prototyping authorities provided by Congress to quickly bring hypersonic weapon capabilities to the warfighter," Dr. Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said in a release.

The Air Force's ARRW is expected to achieve operational capability by fiscal year 2022.

"This type of speed in our acquisition system is essential - it allows us to field capabilities rapidly to compete against the threats we face," Roper said, apparently referencing the challenges posed by near-peer competitors.

Russia, for instance, has developed the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, a nuclear-capable air-launched ballistic missile that can be carried by both bombers and interceptor aircraft.

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