Arrow of the Pentagon
A few years ago, Russia seriously declared its leadership in the development of hypersonic weapons. Fortunately, the States provided her with all the opportunities for this. The once promising American hypersonic missile X-51, created by Boeing and first tested on May 26, 2010, has remained a bold experiment: at least when it comes to the product in the form in which it originally appeared. The United States, of course, has gained valuable experience, but this is by no means a missile that can be used in combat. Some tests were relatively successful, others, for example, in 2012, completely failed. Then the rocket just fell apart and fell in the Pacific Ocean.
Now the situation is different. The United States is seriously planning to obtain hypersonic weapons (capable of flying in the atmosphere at a hypersonic speed greater than or equal to 5M) and maneuver using aerodynamic forces. Now the Americans are implementing several programs for the Army, Navy and Air Force. The closest to the goal was the AGM-183A ARRW (Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon), sometimes referred to as the Arrow.
The system has a number of features that distinguish it from other other hypersonic systems. After launching a rocket from an aircraft and reaching a given point, the hypersonic unit is separated – a small glider that must hit the target.
Exactly what the complex looks like, we were first shown in June 2019. In the photographs, one could see the mass and size model of the AGM-183A hypersonic aeroballistic missile on the external sling of the Boeing B-52H strategic bomber.
Flight tests were also carried out this year. It is important to note that neither then nor now did the Americans launch any missiles, while Russia has already tested its air-launched Dagger (sometimes called the “hypersonic”) and its sea-based Zircon hypersonic missile.
Does this mean that the US is “lagging behind”? Yes and no. Americans, like Russians, have a comprehensive approach to the program. According to a number of sources, tests of the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon warhead, designated Tactical Boost Glide (TBG), were carried out back in 2019.
The main intrigue lay in the characteristics of the complex. Earlier, unofficial sources indicated the speed of the ARRW warhead at about M = 20, which naturally raised doubts among experts. Now the United States has dotted all the i’s by announcing the main characteristics of the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon. They were voiced by Air Force Major General Andrew J. Gebara in an interview with Air Force Magazine. The translated material can be found on the bmpd blog.
As you might expect, Arrow will have much more modest characteristics. Based on the data presented, its range will be at least 1600 kilometers at a warhead speed between M = 6.5 and M = 8.
The B-52H bomber will be able to carry four such missiles on external mounts: two under each external mount. For our part, we recall that the B-52, in addition to external suspensions, also has internal ones, and the dimensions of the Arrow, according to the available photos, allow placing missiles inside the aircraft.
In April 2020, The Drive reported that one B-1B strategic bomber could carry up to 31 such missiles. These are external and internal holders. True, the aircraft will receive such capabilities only after modernization.
The fact that the United States is increasingly talking about its hypersonic missiles is directly linked to the testing of the Russian Zircon and the experimental combat operation of the Dagger missile. A number of authors speak of the desire of the Americans to “catch up with Russia.” In fact, as noted above, the situation is more complicated here. And now it is not possible to name the unambiguous favorite of the hypersonic race. Let’s compare Arrow with Russian designs.
“Dagger”. At first glance, the AGM-183A can be called a conditional analogue of the Russian Kh-47M2 Dagger rocket carried by the upgraded MiG-31 (after the upgrade it is designated MiG-31K), and in the future, the long-range Tu-22M3M bomber will act.
The Dagger missile does not have a ramjet engine, like the X-51, or a glider that separates in flight, like the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon. “Dagger” accelerates the MiG-31K, after which it is separated from the carrier. Thus, it would be more correct to call the Kh-47M2 an “aeroballistic missile” – a conditional analogue of the Soviet Kh-15. According to the previously cited data, it was created on the basis of the Iskander operational-tactical complex missile.
There is no doubt that the Dagger can reach hypersonic speeds. On the other hand, the ability of a large product, devoid of a ramjet engine, to maintain it in all major flight phases raises questions. Which does not mean that the “Dagger” cannot be effectively used against its main targets – surface ships.
“Zircon”. On October 6 this year, the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov fired for the first time with a product of this type from the White Sea. More importantly, for the first time, ordinary citizens were able to see the rocket, albeit without any details.
As in the case of the “Dagger”, we have no confirmed product characteristics. According to available data, the rocket can develop (at least on tests) a speed of M = 8, and its range can reach at least 450 kilometers (according to some reports, the rocket will be able to hit targets located at a distance of 1000 kilometers).
According to unconfirmed information, “Zircon” has two stages: a solid-propellant rocket engine is used to gain speed, after which a ramjet engine is activated, which allows maintaining hypersonic speed throughout the flight path.
Probably, we are talking about a conditional analogue of the Boeing X-51, that is, a weapon that in theory can be called “hypersonic”. If so, then Russia is currently following the path that the Americans once chose and which they subsequently abandoned: at least when it comes to the X-51.
In a broad sense, the main difference between ARRW and Zircon is airborne: Zircon will have to be carried primarily by submarines and surface ships. Time will tell which of the chosen concepts is more correct. It is too early to draw final conclusions.