Thursday, 8 July 2021

A possible missile test (AGM-183 ARRW, or not?) in the Pacific on July 10


 

Three related Navigational Warnings have appeared (NAVAREA XII  nr 304, 305 and 306) that together seem to define the trajectory of a missile test in the Pacific on July 10 between 9:00 and 18:00 UT, with a backup date on July 13:

 060344Z JUL 21
 NAVAREA XII 304/21(18).
 EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC.
 CALIFORNIA.
 1. HAZARDOUS OPERATIONS 100900Z TO 101800Z JUL,
    ALTERNATE 130900Z TO 131800Z JUL
    IN AREA BOUND BY
    33-08-45N 121-27-34W, 33-27-41N 121-29-48W,
    33-33-57N 120-11-14W, 33-14-46N 120-09-15W.
 2. THIS MSG 131900Z JUL 21.


 060353Z JUL 21
 NAVAREA XII 305/21(18).
 EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC.
 1. HAZARDOUS OPERATIONS 100900Z TO 101800Z JUL,
    ALTERNATE 130900Z TO 131800Z JUL
    IN AREA BOUND BY
    32-32-16N 129-10-43W, 32-08-05N 131-47-11W,
    31-53-04N 131-45-39W, 32-17-48N 129-09-11W.
 2. CANCEL THIS MSG 131900Z JUL 21.


 060445Z JUL 21
 NAVAREA XII 306/21(19).
 EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC.
 1. HAZARDOUS OPERATIONS 100900Z TOP 101800Z JUL,
    ALTERNATE 130900Z TO 131800Z JUL
    IN AREA BOUND BY
    31-13-21N 136-21-34W, 31-04-36N 137-16-57W,
    30-49-37N 137-15-27W, 31-01-22N 136-20-03W.
 2. CANCEL THIS MSG 131900Z JUL 21.

Below I have plotted the areas from these three Navigational Warnings on a map:

click map to enlarge

The three areas seem to define a ballistic trajectory for a missile fired, either from a ship, submarine or aircraft, in the Point Mugu Sea Range near the Channel Islands of California, in the general direction of (but maybe not as far as) Hawaii. The distance between the easternmost and westernmost area from the Navigational Warnings is about 1600 km. The distance to Hawaii is about 3950 km.

The question is whether the apparent line-up with the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Hawaii (for which there is a perpetual Navigational Warning) is coincidence or not (the map below shows a simple ballistic trajectory from the esternmost area in the Point Mugu Sea Range to Hawaii PMRF: the three areas and PMRF line up well):

click map to enlarge

If the line-up with Hawaii is coincidence, i.e. if we ignore a possible target area near Hawaii, then one option is that this is a flight test of the AGM-183A ARRW (Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon), a hypersonic missile launched from a B-52 aircraft. Little is known about the range of this new missile, and estimates differ: from 925 km to a quoted "almost 1000 miles". 

The latter is somewhat similar to the ~1600 km range between the easternmost area (NAVAREA XII 304) and westernmost area (NAVAREA XII 306) from the current Navigational Warnings. However, the similarity between "925 km" and "almost 1000" also makes me wonder whether kilometer and miles were mixed up in the latter statement. 1600 km equals 994 statute miles, or 863 nautical miles. 

Early June 2021, a test firing of AGM-183A was announced to probably take place this month (July 2021), which is one reason to suspect a connection of these Navigational Warnings to AGM-183.

If these Navigational Warnings indeed do refer the announced July AGM-183 test, then area 304 is where the missile is fired (from an airborne B-52), area 305 where the booster stage splashes down, and area 306 likely the missile target area.

The last (failed) test attempt of AGM-183A was in April, according to sources. It failed because the missile refused to separate from the aircraft.

The areas from the three July 10 Navigational Warnings are 100% identical those those of three earlier Navigational Warnings issued for May 17 (which I at that time, mistakenly probably, thought might be an SLBM test): Navigational Warnings NAVAREA XII nr 210, 211 and 212:

 


So either there was an aborted/failed test attempt in May as well, or these warnings (both the current and those for May 17) do not refer to AGM-183A.

The AGM-183A ARRW is a hypersonic missile fired from a B-52 aircraft. A rocket stage initially propels it and brings it to high altitude at the edge of space (i.e. not as high as an ICBM which truly enters space), after which it glides down and attains hypersonic speeds up to 6.86 km/s. It is still in its experimental phase with, as far as known, no successful test flight yet.


AGM-183 under the wing of a B-52 during a Captive Carry test. Image: US DoD (Giancarlo Casem)

 

EDIT: just after I hit the "publish" button Hans Kristensen alerted me to the arrival of an Ohio-class Nuclear Missile submarine in San Diego at July 7th. So, maybe an SLBM test after all (but not a standard Trident-II D5 test then, as the positions of the drop zones do not match with earlier Trident tests).


UPDATE 11 July 2021:

This Navigational Warning cancelling warnings NAVAREA XII 304, 305 and 306 just appeared, the wording of which ("operations completed") suggests that something did take place:

101832Z JUL 21
NAVAREA XII 314/21(18).
EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC.
CALIFORNIA.
CANCEL NAVAREA XII 304/21, 305/21, 306/21
AND THIS MSG, OPERATIONS COMPLETED.

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