USAF deploys AARW at Guam for testing 18/03/2024 | Fabio Di Felice

The US Air Force has published a few images that confirm the presence of operational hypersonic Air-Launched Rapid-Response Weapons (ARRW) at Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam.

The images, released by the 36th Wing, showed air and ground crews familiarizing themselves with a live warhead AGM-183A ARRW mounted under a B-52H STRATOFORTRESS bomber. USAF spokesperson, Ann Stefanek, recently spoke to specialized US media confirming that the ARRW program is in an advanced-operational test phase. Not confirmed by the USAF, it is likely that the missile has already undergone a live-firing test noting that a safety notice, issued by the Maritime Safety Office, details a weapons test in the Central Pacific, at Kwajalein, between the 5th and 10th of March. According to US media, the maritime warning bulletin reports that the launching point was north of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll, with the missile likely to travel a distance of 1,140 nautical miles before impacting a target location in the atoll.

Despite the range requirements, the Air Force’s unveiling of the ARRW presence in this forward-Pacific location is clearly a message to the PRC that the US can now deploy hypersonic capability in the region. In accordance with Beijing propaganda, an undisclosed number of hypersonic DF-17 missiles with a 1.800-2.500 km range capability, are already operational while it has also developed hypersonic weapons to be mounted on intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In accordance with the Congressional Budget Office, the unit cost of an air-launched hypersonic missile “similar to” the ARRW is between $15 million and $18 million across a production run of 300 missiles, but a ground-launched version would cost 3 times as much, due to the special launch infrastructure and additional boost capacity required. By the way, despite developing hypersonic science and technology, US Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, has said that hypersonic missiles are not particularly critical to USAF’s concepts of fighting and are important but not a top priority for investment.

At this stage, it is not clear from the photos released whether more than one missile was present on the island, noting that B-52 can carry up to 4 ARRWs on wing pylons. Thus, the USAF has not disclosed whether this capability would remain at the Pacific Island base or not.

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