WASHINGTON — Congressional appropriators are scuttling the Air Force’s plans to buy hypersonic missiles this year after a series of testing failures and delays.
The compromise spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2022, unveiled Wednesday and passed by the House that evening, strikes the nearly $161 million in procurement funding the Biden administration sought for the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon.
An explanatory statement accompanying the spending bill said the ARRW program’s testing failures and delays have extended its schedule and jeopardized the chances of awarding a first production lot contract this year.
Half the procurement funds the Air Force wanted for ARRW, its in-development boost glide air-to-ground hypersonic missile, would be struck entirely under the omnibus bill.
The other half would be transferred to its research, development, test and evaluation account to help plug an expected funding shortfall in hypersonic testing. This shift was made “in consultation with the Air Force,” appropriators said.
The omnibus bill would now provide the Air Force almost $319 million in research, development, test and evaluation funds for the ARRW program, as well as $190 million for its Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile, or HACM, program.
The Trump administration stressed the importance of developing hypersonic weapons. But in recent months, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has repeatedly urged caution when it comes to hypersonic missiles, which can travel at speeds greater than Mach 5 and maneuver in-flight. This makes them capable of penetrating enemy defenses, and harder to track and shoot down than a conventional ballistic missile.
The Pentagon must ask pointed questions about how it wants to use hypersonics, and whether there are better ways to accomplish those goals, Kendall said. It should not automatically devote vast resources to matching China’s advancements on the weapons.
ARRW tests in April, July and December of 2021 all failed due to problems during the launch process.
At the McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington Wednesday, Kendall said ARRW contractor Lockheed Martin recently told him they’re working through the testing issues and will be ready for another test soon.
“But ARRW still has to prove itself,” Kendall said. “And we also need to take that larger look at, what’s the right mix for the future? What are the things we really need to invest in?”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.