WASHINGTON — House appropriators hope to slash funding for the U.S. Air Force’s leading hypersonic missile effort in fiscal 2022, citing increased risk as the program moves from flight testing into production.
The Air Force is seeking about $161 million in FY22 to produce the first 12 AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) missiles, which would become the first hypersonic weapons fielded by the U.S. military for operational use.
However, the House Appropriation Committee’s version of the spending bill would shave $44 million from that total, allowing the Air Force to purchase only eight missiles that year.
According to the bill’s committee report, which was released July 12, lawmakers are concerned about the pace of ARRW’s flight test effort, which has moved more slowly than originally projected.
The Air Force had planned on conducting the first ARRW booster test launch in 2020. That event was put off until March and then delayed once more, culminating in a failed attempt in April. A second booster test is scheduled for this month, and the service plans on testing an all-up-round missile this year.
The committee members worry that — if further issues present themselves in testing — they would result in a problem called “concurrency,” where program officials attempt to test, correct problems, and produce missiles all at the same time.
“The committee notes that the flight test regimen for the rapid prototyping program has become increasingly delayed and compressed, increasing the concurrency risk to the first production lot of weapons funded in this account,” lawmakers stated in the committee report.
Despite the proposed cut to ARRW funding, House appropriators stressed their support of the program, noting that the committee fully funded ongoing research and development expenses for ARRW and that procurement of four missiles would be sufficient for the Air Force to meet early operational capability.
The committee also allocated funds for “engineering change orders” that would allow the Air Force to address problems found in upcoming flight tests.
If those tests proceed smoothly, the committee stated it would also support redistributing the funding meant for engineering changes to ARRW procurement — thus allowing the Air Force to potentially buy up to all 12 missiles it originally requested.
Whether House appropriators’ recommendations will be turned into law is yet to be seen. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not finalized its own spending bill, and it is unclear whether they will have similar reservations about the ARRW program.
The Air Force chose Lockheed Martin to design and manufacture ARRW in 2018, awarding it a contract worth up to $480 million for development activities that include the critical design review, testing and production readiness support.
The service has not publicly declared how many ARRW missiles it ultimately plans to buy. The weapon has been tested aboard the B-52, and Air Force officials have said the B-1 bomber and F-15EX Eagle II could also potentially field ARRW further down the line.