The Air Force wants more money to research hypersonic weapons, but not buy them yet

WASHINGTON – The Air Force’s budget request for fiscal 2023 calls for more money to research hypersonic weapons, replenish its stocks of guided ammunition, buy ship-killing missiles and air-launched cruise missiles, and further develop a next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile.

The budget proposal, which the Biden administration released Monday, seeks to increase spending on developing hypersonic prototyping from the nearly $ 509 million lawmakers approved in fiscal 2022 to $ 577 million in 2023.

Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones said the request for more research, development, testing and evaluation dollars for hypersonics shows the service is “committed” to the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW, and Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile, or HACM, programs.

But the Air Force is not planning to procure any ARRWs, which is the service’s leading hypersonic weapon program, in 2023. In a Monday briefing with reporters, Maj. Gen. James Peccia, deputy assistant secretary for budget, said the program is funded through 2023, and the service would reassess the program in future years. Peccia also said a “sliver” of remaining procurement funding for ARRW this year would likely be reallocated for research and development.

The 2022 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress earlier this month struck nearly $ 161 million that the Pentagon originally asked for to procure ARRWs, and transferred half of that amount to RDT & E. Lawmakers pointed to testing failures and delays that pushed the program back.

The move was made in consultation with the Air Force, Congress said. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has in recent months repeatedly said the service needs to ask hard questions about the role hypersonics should play in the Air Force’s arsenal and if they are cost-effective for the targets the United States might want to strike.

“ARRW still has to prove itself,” Kendall said at a conference in Washington March 9.

Meanwhile, the Air Force’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, the service’s effort to develop a next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the aging Minuteman III, would also receive a $ 1.1 billion increase, to more than $ 3.6 billion in 2023. Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract for GBSD in 2020. The Air Force said this increase would keep it on track to reach initial operating capability in 2029.

The Air Force also wants to add $ 128 million to buy 4,200 joint direct attack munitions, or JDAMs, up from the 1,919 the service requested last year. This would bring JDAM procurement funding to $ 252 million.

Peccia in a March 25 briefing with reporters said the Air Force is now “catching back up” on JDAM production after lower production rates in 2021 and 2022.

The budget would also add $ 119 million to buy 28 Long-Range Anti Ship Missiles, or LRASMs, which were not funded in the Air Force’s 2022 budget.

And it would provide $ 785 million, a $ 74 million increase over the 2022 budget, to buy 550 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range cruise missiles. That would be up from the 525 JASSM-ERs in the 2022 budget, and the added money would fund JASSM-ER at maximum production capacity, Peccia said.

The Long-Range Standoff Weapon program would also see a more than 50% increase in funding, going from the $ 599 million approved in the 2022 omnibus spending bill to $ 929 million under the 2023 budget request.

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