The Drive:

The U.S. Air Force has failed for a third time to conduct a successful test of the rocket booster on a prototype AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon hypersonic missile, or ARRW. This can only add to the palatable frustration within the service, as well as elsewhere in the U.S. military and in Congress, about the progress, or lack thereof, in the testing of various new hypersonic weapons.

I used to be heavy into military stuff. Then I perhaps got a bit too heavy, and realized how utterly full of shit the Military Industrial Complex was and the whole thing lost its luster for me.

Ultra-Long range weapons are a classic example of MIC bullshit. First of all, due to the horizon effect, even if you are at 50,000 feet altitude, the distance to the horizon is just 275 miles. At 100 feet altitude it’s about a dozen miles. Anything that can possibly move, ships, soldiers, vehicles, or what have you, cannot possibly be found, let alone targeted from extremely long distances. The only thing that can be targeted from those distances are static targets, which means buildings, airfields, etcetera.

And yet, the only way to actually hit them is to use GPS guidance, which every single serious military has the ability to destroy in a myriad of ways, from GPS jamming to shooting the satellites out of space. These weapons can only possibly help against totally outmatched enemies like the Taliban. I’d remind everyone that the US military manage to lose that war.

You should keep that in mind if you ever read about “muh precision guided weapons,” or “muh hypersonic missiles.” There’s a 100% chance you’re being oversold, and an extremely good chance it’s just complete bullshit.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Command’s Armament Directorate confirmed to The War Zone today that another attempted ARRW flight test had failed on Dec. 15, 2021. The Air Force says that it has not yet determined the cause of the issue that led to the test being aborted. The prototype missile never left the wing of the B-52H bomber carrying it. 

And yet, the stupidity and pointlessness of the entire concept is overshadowed by the laughable execution. It’s like the F-35 program, only somehow worse. 

This comes some five months after the second attempt to conduct this flight test of the ARRW’s rocket booster. The Air Force deemed that test in July to have been a partial success, even though the rocket did not ignite as intended, because the prototype weapon separated safely from the B-52H bomber that it had been loaded onto and provided an opportunity to evaluate other aspects of the launch procedure.

The Air Force’s first attempt had come in April. In that case, as in this latest test, an unspecified issue forced the mission to be scrapped and the weapon remained on the wing of the B-52H the entire time.

The US Military everybody. Deeming a test a success because the missile managed to get off the rail… even though it didn’t ignite.

For people who know anything about the military let me just say that this is a level of incompetence that borders on thunderstriking. The US Military has now regressed to the point where having a missile fall off of a hardpoint into the ocean is considered progress.

I mean I know I just made that point, but it needs to be made again. Missiles coming off the rail is not exactly 2050 space age technology. We’ve been doing this since the 1950’s. I can sort of forgive the engine not igniting one time, but three tests and two of them ending in “sorry guys, but we fucked up the easiest part again”?

A third failure in a row for the ARRW program is undoubtedly troubling, even if some hiccups are to be expected in the development of any new advanced weapon system. “I’m not satisfied with the pace,” Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall had said about the testing of new hypersonic weapons, in general, at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Force Association Air, Space & Cyber conference in September. “We’re making some progress on the technology; I would like to see it be better.”

 

I’m almost too baffled to laugh. It’s like some twilight zone shit right here. And if any of you misread them, or are confused, they are incapable of having the missile fly off of the wing of a B-52, presumably at some altitude less than 50,000 feet. 

Missile vehicle seen under wing.

And Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is bloviating about “making some progress.” I’ll bet if a B-52 blew up on the runway he’d say the same thing.

Problems encountered in the testing of new hypersonic systems extend beyond the Air Force, too. In October, the Pentagon announced the failure of a test of a still unspecified hypersonic missile from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska on Kodiak Island. The U.S. Army and Navy are also set to begin tests next year of a jointly developed hypersonic missile that employs a different style of boost-glide vehicle from the one inside ARRW.

The Air Force, as well as other branches of the U.S. military, have repeatedly touted new hypersonic weapons as key to future warfighting plans, especially in potential high-end conflicts against near-peer adversaries, such as China and Russia. At the same time, Secretary Kendall had also said in September that he was “not satisfied with the degree to which we have figured out what we need for hypersonics — of what type, for what missions.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall

Remember what I told you at the beginning of this article? They’re fucking up when making something that they don’t even know has any practical value.

It is nice to see them admit that they don’t even have a mission in mind for any of this garbage, even if it worked. The US Military already has ICBM’s. They have all same problems as these hypersonic missiles in terms of target acquisition and reliance on GPS. However, they don’t need the added complication of first having a B-52 in the area and an accompanying airfield. And since you can build up ICBM’s in peacetime, they’re easier to spam. 

Above are “boomers.” Submarines that carry long range nuclear missiles. They can patrol around the world for months on end, or even simply lie on the ocean floor, pop up through the arctic ice in a semi-random spot, and rain down up to 200 nuclear warheads on whatever target they’re firing on. They also need GPS guidance, but can be fired from essentially anywhere on earth that the submarine can safely navigate to, which is a more practical of a setup than having an entire airport big enough for B-52’s to take off from, and stocked up with huge missiles.

There are even dramatically smaller missiles, carrying nuclear and conventional payloads, that can be fired from some non-boomer subs. These can navigate close enough to use inertial navigation systems that typically have error rates of around 6 miles/100 miles traveled. Not great, but potentially good enough. So if you need non-GPS weapons, you can use that. Or you could use good old fashioned dumb bombs dropped from whatever aircraft you have in the area.

These hypersonic missiles just flat out do not fill any role that isn’t already filled by things that are better.

All of this also comes as China and Russia have begun to field their own hypersonic weapons and are continuing to develop additional types. China, in particular, has rocked national security circles with its reported testing of some kind of Fractional Orbital Bombard System that employs a hypersonic glide vehicle, which you can read more about here. North Korea also claimed earlier this year to have tested a ballistic missile tipped with a boost-glide vehicle.

 

Oh no, please tell me more about this Fractional Orbital Bombardment System. I’m sure it’s extremely practical and works very well.

“What you need to be worried about is that in the last five years, or maybe longer, the United States has done nine hypersonic missile tests, and in the same time the Chinese have done hundreds,” now-retired Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who was Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Defense Writers Group event in October. “Single digits vs hundreds is not a good place.”

Militaries serve multiple purposes other than actual warfighting. They serve as symbols of a nations prestige. Going to the moon didn’t have any valid military purpose, but it illegitimately furthered the international prestige of US soft power. If your flag’s on the moon, you need to be taken seriously.

A lot of these high tech “weapons,” don’t actually have real military value, but serve much the same purpose. China wants to be taken seriously, so they build supersonic missiles along with “Fractional Orbital Bombardment Systems”. Russia wants to be taken seriously, so they do the same. The US military wants to be taken seriously, so they dilate their trans-vaginas and fail to launch a missile off the rail and that’s their version.

The practical military goal of all this comes easily secondary to national prestige. Building hypersonic missiles is a national achievement. So is making general scientific and engineering advancements. So is building big buildings, and nice statues.

If you have lots of high quality infantry, you can do colonial wars. If you have nuclear weapons and a blue water navy, you can be a terrorist threat to Uppity Nations. The latter is all the US Military actually is at this point. We’ve long since passed the point where they’d actually be any real threat to China taking over Taiwan, or whatever idiotic saber rattling you may be hearing about.

But you can do your part by laughing at them.

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3 Comments

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  2. […] time their hypersonic missiles have failed in testing. That’s not quite true. Months ago I wrote about their failure in hypersonic missile testing referenced above, where they couldn’t even get […]

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