U.S. Air Force Cancels HCSW Hypersonic Missile Program

The U.S. Air Force has announced the cancelation of one of its two hypersonic weapon programs, the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW), last month.

The program was reportedly canceled due to budget pressures that forced the Air Force to choose between the HCSW program and the service’s other hypersonic weapon development effort, the Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) program.

According to Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Dr. Will Roper, the ARRW program was selected because it was more advanced and gave the Air Force additional options. “[ARRW] is smaller; we can carry twice as many on the B-52, and it’s possible it could be on the F-15,” he explained.

The Air Force will reportedly continue the technical review of HCSW through March 2020.

The prime contractor of both HCSW (pronounced “hacksaw”) and ARRW (pronounced “arrow”) programs is Lockheed Martin with the company’s Missiles and Fire Control division developing ARRW, and the Space division developing HCSW. In 2018, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $928 million contract for the HCSW program and a $480 million contract to begin designing the ARRW weapon, which is designated AGM-183A.

Both HCSW and ARRW are air-launched boost-glide hypersonic systems and consist of a rocket booster and a hypersonic glider warhead. After being launched from an aircraft, the booster rocket accelerates to high speeds before releasing the hypersonic glide warhead payload which then glides unpowered to its target at hypersonic speeds.

Notional hypersonic strike glide vehicle
Lockheed Martin’s illustration of a notional hypersonic strike glide vehicle. A similar glide vehicle was to be equipped on the HCSW weapon.

One of the main differences between the two weapons is their hypersonic glide vehicles.

HCSW’s glide vehicle was based on the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) that will be also used on U.S. Army’s ground-launched Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) and U.S. Navy’s sea-launched Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) weapon. ARRW’s glide vehicle is based on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) project.

Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB)
Rendering of a Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) in flight. Dynetics Photo.
Rendering of an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) showing its TBG-derived hypersonic glide warhead. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin.

The AGM-183A missile is expected to be deployed on Air Force’s strategic bombers with the flight tests being conducted on the B-52 Stratofortress bomber.

The first captive flight test of the ARRW hypersonic missile was successfully conducted by the U.S. Air Force on a B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber aircraft on June 12 last at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

AGM-183A ARRW Captive Flight Test
First captive flight test of U.S. Air Force’s newest hypersonic missile, the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), on a B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber aircraft at Edwards AFB, California on June 12, 2019. USAF Photo.

A contract modification, worth around $988.8 million, was also awarded to Lockheed Martin to support the effort in December 2019 with an expected completion date of Dec. 31, 2022.

The AGM-183A ARRW is set to reach early operational capability by FY 2022.

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