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March 4, 2021
Notes from the Pentagon

Air Force to test hypersonic missile

By Bill Gertz
The Air Force is moving ahead with a revolutionary high-speed missile that will be tested in the coming weeks, according to officials.

An air-launched test of the booster for the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, is expected in the near future, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Ethan Stoker. “We’re still under preparation for the booster flight test,” he told Inside the Ring.

An Air Force spokesman said the ARRW is a high-priority arms program being developed under 2017 legislation that gives the military the power to do rapid prototyping of weapons systems.

“An operational hypersonic air-launched weapon will enable the U.S. to hold fixed, high-value and time-sensitive targets at risk in contested environments from standoff distances,” the spokesman said.

The ARRW is on track to be the first operational hypersonic weapon for the military and could be ready soon as October. The missile is boosted by a solid-fuel motor that carries it to low-Earth orbit, where the missile then glides at high speed to its target.

The comments on the timing of the next test appeared to clarify remarks at a forum last week by Brig. Gen. Heath A. Collins, head of the Air Force’s armament directorate. Gen. Collins said the next test of the ARRW could come as early as this week.

Production of the missile could begin within a year, he told an Air Force Association conference.

Air Force Magazine, which first reported the planned ARRW test, said a December test of the missile, being developed by Lockheed Martin, failed as a result of technical mistakes.

Michael White, the Pentagon‘s central official in charge of hypersonics development, said of the earlier test glitch: “We need to get it right the first time. We have this mindset that we want to fail early and often so we can accelerate learning and actually develop quicker. But that’s only valid if your failures are because you’re learning about [technological] discoveries and the ability to do hypersonic flight. If our failures are that we forgot how to do a checklist, and tighten a pin on a fin, and we lose a flight vehicle because a fin falls off, that’s not acceptable failure.”

A test in August of the ARRW was successful.

The bomber-launched ARRW is one of two hypersonic weapons being built for the Air Force, along with the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM). Both missiles will be carried on B-52s and B-1s.

Four of the larger, boost-glide ARRWs can be deployed on a single bomber, while 20 or more of the lighter HACMs could be carried on one bomber, according to the Air Force.

The Pentagon decided years ago not to pursue hypersonic missiles at the same time China and Russia were launching major programs. Both are now ahead of the U.S. military in the field.

That changed toward the end of the Trump administration, when rapid development of hypersonics was ordered.

Hypersonic missiles travel more than five times the speed of sound and can maneuver, either after they enter the atmosphere from space or slide along the edge of the atmosphere and space. The high-speed missiles pose major design challenges because of the extreme heat caused by atmospheric friction and the need to generate propulsion.

While gliders like the ARRW use a rocket booster, the air-breathing variant uses a scramjet, a unique system designed to use supersonic air flow in fuel combustion.

Hypersonic arms can defeat increasingly capable missile defenses because of their speed and maneuverability, which make them difficult for satellites and ground and sea sensors to identify, track and target. All current U.S. missile defense systems, which cost tens of billions of dollars, are designed to attack missiles and warheads that fly in predictable, easier-to-track trajectories.

China and Russia have said their hypersonic weapons are aimed at defeating American defenses. China announced recently that it has deployed the DF-17 hypersonic missile that U.S. officials say is capable of being armed with either nuclear or conventional warheads.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to the Senate this week that none of the people charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was linked to leftist anarchists or Antifa violent extremists.

Critics say Mr. Wray apparently failed to include one of those indicted on charges in the riot — John E. Sullivan, an anarchist and political provocateur who was videotaped inside the Capitol building urging rioters to burn it down.

Mr. Wray was asked whether Antifa or any “left-wing groups” played a significant role in the riot.

He replied: “Certainly, while we are equal opportunity and looking for violent extremism of any ideology, we have not, to date, seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection with the 6th.”

Mr. Wray said the lack of leftist rioters “doesn’t mean we’re not looking and we’ll continue to look, but at the moment, we have not seen that.”

FBI spokeswomen did not return emails seeking comment.

However, the Justice Department on Jan. 8 indicted Mr. Sullivan, who was identified as an organizer of rallies and protests and leader of the group Insurgence USA, in connection with the Jan. 6 activities. He was charged with five counts of civil disorder, obstructing an official proceeding, disorderly conduct, parading in a Capitol building and “aiding and abetting” the riot.

Mr. Sullivan, 26, was arrested in July on charges of rioting and criminal mischief after a violent Black Lives Matter protest in Provo, Utah.

An FBI affidavit in the Capitol riot case states that Mr. Sullivan was seen in a YouTube video exhorting a crowd over a microphone during one protest, using rally cries such as “We about to burn this s—- down,” and “We ain’t waiting until the next election.”

While not calling itself leftist, Insurgence USA identifies itself on its website as a group “forming a rainbow coalition to unite all people under one banner to fight for liberation and freedom for all people.”

“How we hope to achieve this is by taking a stance against acts of inhumane violence, discrimination of any form and political corruption,” the website says. “We are the revolution, lets show them the power of the people united!”

Mr. Sullivan also posted a statement on the website saying President Trump planned a coup using the group the Proud Boys. The statement contradicts a report in The Washington Post that claimed Mr. Sullivan supported the Proud Boys. Mr. Sullivan told Rolling Stone magazine that his support of the Jan. 6 rioters was part of a plan to blend in.

“I was worried about people recognizing me and thinking that I was antifa or, like, BLM or whatever,” he said. “I had to relate to these people, and build trust in the short amount of time I had there to get where I need to go: To the front of the crowd to see the dynamic between the police and the protesters.”

The Pentagon is declining to disclose the identity of the members of its new China Task Force, citing unspecified “operational security” fears.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a Middle East expert who headed the Central Command, created the task force this year and appointed Ely Ratner, a Biden administration political appointee and former congressional aide, to head it. The task force met for the first time this week.

“Today’s meeting is intended to formalize the mission, timing and outputs of the task force as they work towards a baseline assessment of departments, policies, programs and processes on China-related matters,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday.

The group has four months to provide Mr. Austin with specific and actionable recommendations to address what officials are calling “the China challenge” — a retrenchment from the Trump administration identification of the problem as “the China threat.”

“What the secretary wants Mr. Ratner to do is to look at the pacing challenge that China poses to the department from our perspective, and what we need to do to make sure we’re ready to meet that challenge,” Mr. Kirby said, noting that the group will add to the Pentagon‘s ongoing Global Posture Review.

The Pentagon released the agencies and departments taking part in the task force, but not the officials from them.

They include offices of the undersecretaries of defense for policy, acquisition, research and engineering; and intelligence. The assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict also is part of the group, as are the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Staff and all military services, including the new Space Force.

Last, the Indo-Pacific Command, which would be in charge of any conflict with China, is part of the task force.

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