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    US Air Force buys its first hypersonic weapons costing $1.1billion

    US Air Force buys its first hypersonic weapons: Eight prototype missiles costing $1.1billion could be ready by 2022

    • Weapons first pictured being carried by B-52 bomber during tests in June 2019
    • Missiles officially named AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapons
    • They travel at more than five times speed of sound or about 3,853 miles per hour
    • President Trump boasted of the hypersonic missile programme in January 

    The U.S. Air Force is planning to buy at least eight hypersonic missiles which can travel at five times the speed of sound.

    The weapons, which were first pictured being carried by a B-52 bomber during USAF tests in June 2019, are expected to cost at least $1.1billion.

    The prototype missiles, which are officially named AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapons, or ARRWs, could be available to use on the battlefield in 2022. 

    President Donald Trump boasted of the US military’s hypersonic missile programme in January, saying there were ‘many’ under construction.  

    The US Air Force is planning to buy at least eight hypersonic missiles which can travel at five times the speed of sound

    The weapons, which were first pictured being carried by a B-52 bomber during USAF tests in June 2019, are expected to cost at least $1.1billion

    The weapons, which were first pictured being carried by a B-52 bomber during USAF tests in June 2019, are expected to cost at least $1.1billion

    The news of the planned purchases was reported by The Drive after the Government Accountability Office – a Congressional watchdog – included details of them in its annual review of major US military programs.

    The missiles will become the US military’s first hypersonic weapons. 

    The combination of speed, maneuverability and altitude of hypersonic missiles can make them difficult to track and intercept. 

    They travel at more than five times the speed of sound or about 3,853 miles per hour. 

    Some will travel as fast as 15,000 miles per hour, according to US and other Western weapons researchers, which is about 25 times as fast as modern passenger jets. 

    President Donald Trump boasted of the US military's hypersonic missile programme in January, saying there were 'many' under construction. Pictured: Mock-ups of the missiles released by Lockheed Martin

    President Donald Trump boasted of the US military’s hypersonic missile programme in January, saying there were ‘many’ under construction. Pictured: Mock-ups of the missiles released by Lockheed Martin

    There are two primary categories of hypersonic weapons: Hypersonic glide vehicles that are launched from a rocket before gliding to a target and hypersonic cruise missiles that are powered by high-speed, air-breathing engines after acquiring their target. 

    However, the ARRW project is reportedly a year behind schedule and has seen its total cost increase by almost 40 per cent. 

    The two types of hypersonic weapons:

    Hypersonic glide vehicles 

    A hypersonic glide vehicle is boosted aloft on a rocket to heights of between 25 miles to 62 miles above the earth before detaching to glide along the upper atmosphere towards its target. 

    It is released at a height and speed that would allow it to glide unpowered to the target. 

    Control surfaces on the glide vehicle mean it can steer an unpredictable course and maneuver sharply as it approaches impact.

    These glide vehicles follow a much flatter and lower trajectory than the high, arching path of a ballistic missile. 

    Hypersonic cruise missiles

    These missiles are powered by high-speed, air-breathing engines after acquiring their target. 

    While they have internal engines,  unlike regular cruise missiles, they travel far faster and higher. 

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    Development began in 2018, with the design contract being awarded to Lockheed Martin. 

    In June 2019, a B-52 bomber was pictured carrying a test version of the missile. The plane is set to be the main launching platform for the missiles.   

    ‘Program officials stated that they plan to deliver eight hypersonic missiles: four to conduct flight tests and four spares,’ GAO’s report explained. 

    ‘Specifically, [the] ARRW [program] plans to develop an operational prototype with solid-fuel booster, ordnance package, and specialized equipment to enable it to be carried on the B-52H.’

    ‘According to program officials, the program will build knowledge through the flight and operational testing of prototype units, as well as potentially provide an operational capability from the deployment of any remaining spare test units,’ the review added. 

    Speaking of the hypersonic missile programme during a national address in January, President Trump said: ‘Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal, and fast.

    ‘Under construction are many hypersonic missiles.

    ‘The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. 

    ‘We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.’ 

    Unlike ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons don’t follow a ballistic trajectory and can maneuver en route to their destination. 

    The US, as well as China and Russia, have so far focused research and development on both categories of hypersonic weapons – both of which could carry conventional or nuclear payloads.

    A hypersonic glide vehicle is boosted aloft on a rocket to heights of between 25 miles to 62 miles above the earth before detaching to glide along the upper atmosphere towards its target.  

    It is released at a height and speed that would allow it to glide unpowered to the target. Control surfaces on the glide vehicle mean it can steer an unpredictable course and maneuver sharply as it approaches impact. 

    The missiles will become the US military's first hypersonic weapons. The combination of speed, maneuverability and altitude of hypersonic missiles can make them difficult to track and intercept

    The missiles will become the US military’s first hypersonic weapons. The combination of speed, maneuverability and altitude of hypersonic missiles can make them difficult to track and intercept

    They travel at more than five times the speed of sound or about 3,853 miles per hour

    They travel at more than five times the speed of sound or about 3,853 miles per hour

    Hypersonic cruise missiles, meanwhile, have internal engines. But unlike regular cruise missiles, they travel far faster and higher. 

    The US has been developing hypersonic weapons since the early 2000s, according to a Congressional Research Service report published in July last year. 

    The Pentagon has also previously said the US has been working on the development of hypersonic weapons in recent years.

    Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last August that he believes ‘it’s probably a matter of a couple of years’ before the US has one.

    At the time, he called it a priority as the military works to develop new long-range fire capabilities.

    The Pentagon’s budget request for all hypersonic-related research throughout 2020 was a whopping $2.6 billion, according to the research report.

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