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Air Force budget backs Raytheon hypersonic, no Lockheed missile funds

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Air Force budget backs Raytheon hypersonic, no Lockheed missile funds

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The U.S. Air Force’s proposed fiscal 2025 budget requests $517 million to keep developing its Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile — but the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon’s future is looking dim.

The service’s FY25 budget, released Monday, includes no procurement nor research and development funding for Lockheed Martin’s ARRW. The service has one final all-up round test planned for the weapon soon and will wrap up its rapid prototyping program this year.

HACM and ARRW are the Air Force’s two main programs to develop hypersonic capabilities that can fly at speeds greater than Mach 5 and be highly maneuverable, making them hard for enemies to track and shoot down. Both are air-launched, and the service said in budget documents the programs are complementary. HACM is an air-breathing missile, and ARRW is a boost-glide hypersonic weapon.

China and Russia have focused heavily on developing hypersonic capabilities. Some lawmakers have criticized the Pentagon’s progress on fielding the United States’ own hypersonic weapons, and warned the country is falling behind.

Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter told reporters at the McAleese & Associates conference on March 7 that the results of ARRW’s final test will help the Air Force determine the program’s maturity and identify the mix of hypersonic capabilities it will need.

“The Air Force remains committed to fully analyzing and understanding all test data gathered while conducting the ARRW rapid prototyping test series,” the service said in an email. “This data will inform subsequent development and fielding decisions with ARRW.”

In a statement to Defense News, Lockheed Martin expressed pride in its work on ARRW.

“Lockheed Martin has exceeded requirements on the ARRW program, achieving a mature, fully-qualified weapon system and an established production line,” the company said. “The exceptional work accomplished by this government-contractor team will provide synergies to follow-on opportunities. Lockheed Martin will continue to apply our expertise to deliver tactical and operational assets to ensure revolutionary hypersonic-strike capabilities can be rapidly deployed to the U.S. military.”

ARRW’s future has been in doubt since a March 2023 test failed. Shortly after, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told lawmakers the program had “struggled” in testing. Kendall also said in that hearing the service was more committed to HACM, which he said had been “reasonably successful” and would be compatible with more of the service’s aircraft.

The day after Kendall testified to Congress, Hunter, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told lawmakers the service didn’t plan to pursue follow-on procurement of ARRW after its prototyping concluded.

Budget documents released Monday said HACM would be able to carry out “vastly different trajectories” than a boost-glide missile such as ARRW, and its additional complexity would make it more of a threat against adversaries. HACM is also smaller than ARRW, which makes it easier to mount on more aircraft, the documents said.

The Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon’s total cost will be $1.7 billion.

The Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile’s $517 million in research, development test and evaluation funds would be a considerable increase from fiscal 2023, when it received $387 million in R&D funding, and fiscal 2024, in which the Air Force requested $382 million for the program.

The Air Force also expects to spend almost $449 million on HACM in fiscal 2026, and a little more than $200 million on the program in the following two years. In all, the Air Force so far expects to spend more than $2.4 billion on HACM.

The Air Force in 2022 awarded Raytheon, a subsidiary of the company now called RTX, and Northrop Grumman a contract to develop HACM, which grew out of a program dubbed Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency managed.

Hunter said at the McAleese conference that while HACM is still a so-called middle tier of acquisition program meant to rapidly develop prototypes, he has stressed to industry that the Air Force intends to field such capabilities one day — and industry should act like the government is working on a production program.

“[T]he goal is to develop a fielded capability that we will move into production on the most rapid time frame that we can reasonably and prudently carry out and execute,” Hunter said.

He later told reporters there are now no testing dates set for HACM.

The Army and Navy are also expecting delays to their joint hypersonic program, as testing has fallen behind schedule. The Army calls its ground-launched missile the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, and the Navy calls its sea-launched version Conventional Prompt Strike. The two services had planned to buy hypersonic missiles in 2025, but those moves are now on hold to allow testing to catch up.

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.

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