Air force chief Frank Kendall has told federal lawmakers that this month’s launch of an ARRW missile was “not a success” FILE PHOTO: US Air Force crew members secure an ARRW hypersonic missile to the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress for an August 2020 test of the system at California’s Edwards Air Force Base. © Giancarlo Casem / US Air Force

The US Air Force has revealed at least the fourth failed test of a hypersonic missile system made by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, suggesting that it’s more likely to adopt a competing system built by Raytheon.

“The one we just had was not a success,” Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall told members of a US House committee on Tuesday. “We did not get the data that we needed from that test, so they’re currently examining that to try to understand what happened.”

Kendall was referring to a March 13 test of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), a hypersonic attack cruise missile, off the coast of Southern California. He gave no specifics on what went wrong with the launch. His comments may have come as a surprise to lawmakers because the Air Force issued a press release last week indicating that the ARRW test “met several objectives.” The release made no mention of the test’s failure.

The ARRW has been under development since 2018 and was delayed after three failed booster tests in 2021. The Air Force claimed the first successful launch of the missile last May, saying it reached speeds exceeding Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.

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US forces don’t yet have a fully operational hypersonic missile system, as Washington has fallen behind Russia and China in the race to develop such weapons. Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds over Mach 5 and are highly maneuverable, making them difficult to shoot down.

In light of the latest ARRW test, the Air Force is “more committed” to its other hypersonic program, the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), Kendall told lawmakers. A budgeting decision on whether to adopt the ARRW is expected to be made next year, after as many as two more test launches.

The Air Force reportedly received about $423 million in research and development funding for the ARRW in the past two years, and it has requested an additional $150 million in the budget for its next fiscal year. HACM funding totaled $423 million for the current fiscal year alone, and the Air Force plans an additional $1.9 billion in spending on the program over the next five years.

The HACM program has been “reasonably successful” so far, Kendall said. He added, “We see a definite role for the HACM concept. It’s compatible with more of our aircraft, and it will give us more combat capability overall.”