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The US Air Force called the trial a ‘major accomplishment’ after a series of failed launch tests
The US military said it carried out a test for a hypersonic missile system, claiming the new weapon reached speeds greater than five times the speed of sound. It marked the first successful launch for the prototype following three fizzled tests.
The Air Force announced the test on Monday, saying it was conducted over the weekend near Edwards Air Force Base in California. The trial saw a B-52 Stratofortress bomber release an AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) off California’s southern coast.
“Following separation from the aircraft, the ARRW’s booster ignited and burned for expected duration, achieving hypersonic speeds five times greater than the speed of sound,” the military said, while Brigadier General Heath Collins, the Air Force program executive officer for weapons, called the test a “major accomplishment.”
Though the Pentagon has claimed the weapon’s boost-glide system could theoretically reach speeds of Mach 20, or 20 times the speed of sound, it achieved much lower numbers during Saturday’s test. Officials did not specify how far the missile flew during the latest launch, but the military has previously placed its operational range at around 1,000 miles (1,609km).
Under development by arms contractor Lockheed Martin since 2018, the ARRW has undergone only a handful of flight tests to date, including three failed booster tests between April and December of 2021. While previous trials for its sensors and communications systems were successful, other technical issues prompted officials to delay the program by up to a year in April.
Weeks earlier, lawmakers moved to cut funding for the flagship weapon by half, citing “recent failures and delays in testing.” The decision killed the Air Force’s plans to purchase the first 12 ARRW missiles from Lockheed Martin this year, leaving a number of unanswered questions about the procurement process.
Though the US has yet to field a hypersonic platform, the ARRW is not the only one in the works, with the Pentagon reportedly carrying out a test for a new ‘Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept’ in mid-March under secrecy, according to a US official cited by CNN. The unnamed official said the test was kept under wraps to avoid inflaming tensions with Russia, as it came just weeks after Moscow launched its ongoing offensive in Ukraine.
Russia has also developed – and deployed – hypersonic weapons of its own, including the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (Dagger), which entered service in late 2017. In March, the Russian Ministry of Defense said a Kinzhal was used to destroy an ammunition depot in western Ukraine.
Three additional European states have pledged to defend the aspiring NATO members during the application process
Denmark, Iceland, and Norway have joined a growing number of countries offering defense pledges to Sweden and Finland, which have both formally embarked on membership bids in the NATO military alliance.
Citing Helsinki and Stockholm’s “right to choose their own security arrangements” as sovereign nations, the three European states declared on Monday that they would defend Sweden and Finland in the event either come under attack as they move through the NATO application process.
“Finland and Sweden’s security is a matter of common concern to us all. Should Finland or Sweden be victims of aggression on their territory before obtaining NATO membership, we will assist Finland and Sweden by all means necessary,” they said in a joint statement, adding that they would “immediately initiate preparations in order to effectuate these security assurances.”
The new defense guarantees came on the day that Sweden officially announced that it would request NATO membership, a day after neighboring Finland did the same. Leaders in both countries have raised concerns in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine in late February, arguing it has fundamentally changed the security environment in the region.
Moscow has long warned against the continued eastward expansion of the US-led military alliance, deeming the bloc a “tool geared towards confrontation.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov recently said membership for Finland or Sweden would be sure to increase “military tension” in Eastern Europe, while the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, suggested deploying nuclear weapons on Russia’s western border.
President Vladimir Putin appeared to offer a more subdued reaction on Monday, stating that Moscow has “no problems” with Stockholm or Helsinki and that their ascension into NATO “does not pose a direct threat to Russia.”
He added, however, that the “expansion of military infrastructure into this territory [Sweden or Finland] will certainly cause our response,” and that Russia’s reaction “will be based on the threats that will be created for us.”
While a number of countries have already offered security pledges to the two prospective NATO states – among them the US, Britain, and the military alliance itself – their membership will depend on unanimous support from the bloc’s 30 members. To date, Turkey is the only member to voice objections in public.
On Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed the two Nordic states “bring terrorists to talk in their parliaments” and “do not have a clear unequivocal stance against terrorist organizations,” referring to the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front (DHKP/C), outlawed by Ankara. Despite upcoming meetings with officials from both countries, he said Ankara would not be swayed on its decision.
“We wouldn’t say ‘yes’ to them joining NATO, a security organization. They were going to come on Monday to convince us. Sorry, they don’t have to bother,” he added.
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