Asymmetric Dialogue

The B-52 Looks Set To Become The USAF's Hypersonic Weapons Truck Of Choice

It’s not clear if either TBG or HAWC, collectively referred to as the High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW) program, will ever lead to operational weapons or if these designs will serve more a test beds for further developments. The Air Force already plans to leverage work on the TBG project to support its own Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, which is pronounced “arrow.”
Lockheed Martin has also been leading the work on both the TBG and HAWC. That same company has, unsurprisingly now secured the contracts to develop both the ARRW and a new air-breathing design called the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon, or HCSW, which you’re supposed to pronounce as “hacksaw.”
ARRW, which has also now received the designation AGM-183A, will be an unpowered, air-launched boost glide type vehicle with the same basic characteristics as the TGB. The Air Force hopes ARRW’s first flight will occur in 2021.
That same year, the service wants a conduct the first test launch of the HCSW. As with TBG and ARRW, the limited publicly available information about this vehicle’s characteristics describes a system that is very similar to HAWC.
Though HCSW’s name implies that it will be conventional, it is possible that ARRW may be nuclear-capable. Colonel Reynolds’ presentation mentioned work on integrating a “special weapon” – a long-standing euphemism for nuclear weapons – onto the B-52 between Fiscal Year 2016 and 2021.
This could also be a reference to the more traditional Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) cruise missile, which will be able to carry a nuclear warhead. You can read all about that new weapon here.
Even just adding the ARRW and HCSW to the B-52's arsenal would be significant developments. We at The War Zone have explored in depthwhy hypersonic weapons are so important on multiple occasions in the past. These vehicles have raw speed and inter atmospheric flight profiles that alone make them largely immune to enemy defenses.
A weapon system that flies at a mile per second across a distance of 1,000 miles significantly reduces the time in the kill chain from when the U.S. military identifies the target to when it actually strikes it. For an opponent, this translates to a far shorter amount of time in which to spot the incoming threat and decide to either try and shoot it down or evacuate critical assets and personnel from a particular site. Nuclear- or conventionally-armed hypersonic vehicles therefore offer a game-changing option for conducting strikes with little warning against time-sensitive and other critical targets.
The extreme speed and range of hypersonic weapons also makes them especially applicable to non-stealthy launch platforms, such as the B-52s, since it would allow the bombers to remain far away from enemy air defenses when launching the weapons. In addition, the BUFF already has an established capability to carry oversize payloads over long ranges and each bomber, depending on the size of the Air Force's future ARRW and HCSW designs, could offer a significantly greater volume of fire over other available launch platforms.
The B-52s could potentially hit targets deeper inside hostile territory by flying right to the edge of those defensive networks, as well. Bombers in general also offer the added flexibility of being able to remain on airborne alert near a certain region, acting as a potential deterrent to an outright conflict, and are easier to recall if necessary to de-escalate a situation. This also helps explain why the Air Force plans to keep the BUFFs in service until 2050, even as the service plans to retire the B-1 bomber and continues procurement of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber.
thedrive.com