U.S. will get AARGM-ER missile with band wings and heat shield

WASHINGTON – The AARGM-ER anti-radiation missile program enters the next phase, learned BulgarianMilitary.com, citing Defence24. The commencement of serial production of these missiles paves the way for their introduction into service with Super Hornet, Growler, and F-35 fighters. The latter will thus be able to combat key targets from long distances, including those that are not radar stations.

U.S. will get AARGM-ER missile with band wings and heat shield
Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

The American Navy received in August this year. approval to start serial production of AARGM-ER anti-radiation missiles. They will be introduced to the equipment of F / A-18E / F Super Hornet fighters and E / A-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, but also fifth-generation F-35 fighters in all three versions: F-35A [intended for the air force], F -35B [marine] and F-35C [navy].

A month later, the first batch of these rockets was ordered from Northrop Grumman. It includes 16 combat missiles, six training missiles, four sets of equipment for their programming, as well as spare parts and support equipment. The works are to last until March 2024.

The development program of the AGM-88G AARGM-ER missile has been implemented relatively recently, since 2016 by the US Navy and the Northrop Grumman company, acting as an industrial partner. The AARGM-ER program aimed to create an anti-radiation missile with a speed and range significantly exceeding that of the full-scale AGM-88E AARGM missile since 2012.

At the same time, it was decided to use the guidance system developed for the AARGM missile, consisting of a digital, passive radar head, active millimeter radar, and the INS / GPS. Electronic elements used to control the missile in flight were also used.

The new elements in AARGM-ER are the construction, which includes, among others, band wings and heat shield, solid rocket engine, and controls in the aft fuselage. All this, apart from the possibility of carrying fifth-generation fighters in the internal chambers, allows achieving twice the speed of the AGM-88E missiles, which – according to publicly available data of the NAVAIR command – achieved speeds above 2 Max. This, combined with the double range, translates into a significant increase in the projectile’s capability.

AARGM-ER retains all the capabilities that were introduced in the earlier version of AARGM. This missile can therefore fight radar stations even when they have been turned off and the maneuver to change position has started [thanks to the combination of the navigation system and millimeter radar]. It can also engage targets other than radars, as long as their coordinates are known.

It is also possible to designate zones for anti-radiation missiles or those where you cannot hit the targets. Finally, information from the AARGM [and AARGM-ER] missile sensors can be used by the pilot in the cockpit [and further transmitted, for example using the Link 16 system], which increases the ability to recognize threats from the radar systems of a potential enemy.

Currently, it is expected that in parallel with the small-lot production of AARGM-ER, further tests will be carried out as part of the Developmental Test for 1.5 years, and then tests in conditions similar to operational (Operational Test). Initial operational readiness is planned for September 2023.

It is worth noting that such a rapid transition from conceptual work to production was possible in the AARGM-ER program, among others, because it was decided to use the existing elements and technologies developed in the AARGM program. Therefore, it can be argued that AARGM-ER is the next step in the evolution of anti-radiation missiles and a kind of complement to the AARGM program.

U.S. will get AARGM-ER missile with band wings and heat shield
Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

The AARGM missiles in the AGM-88E version were created by converting older HARMs and adding new guidance, control, and control systems, using the existing structure, warheads, or propulsion. In the AGM-88G version, it was decided to implement a new missile structure and use the previously developed electronic systems.

The new version also extends the use of AARGM missiles in the US armed forces. Although AARGM-ER is a navy-managed program, it was decided to integrate it not only with Super Hornet and Growler fighters but also with F-35 machines of all three versions used by three types of US armed forces. The F-35A used by the USAF and the F-35C used by the US Navy will be able to carry these missiles both inside and outside [under the wings], while the very short take-off and vertical landing capability of the Marine F-35B – under the wings.

AARGM-ER will therefore become an important tool to combat the elements of anti-access zones [A2 / AD] by F-35 fighters. This high-speed missile will be able to hit targets at relatively long ranges in a short time while maintaining [in the case of versions A and C] the characteristics of reduced detectability. The latter is particularly important in the case of the F-35 because the dimensions of the internal armament chambers of these fighters mean that some of the air-to-ground firearms used so far can only be carried outside, increasing the reflecting surface and the ability to detect these fighters by radars.

The AGM-88E version of the conventional AARGM missile is also in progress. In August this year. Northrop Grumman has received an order for its tenth batch of missiles of this type. For just over USD 94.8 million, 127 AGM-88E AARGMs will be produced (by converting the existing HARMs), including 87 for the US Navy and 40 for Germany, the export user of these missiles. Deliveries should be made by March 2024.

The Federal Republic has signed an Intergovernmental Agreement [LOA] for the supply of these missiles for a total of 91 missiles. They will be used on Tornado ECR planes, the same ones that carried HARMs before. In turn, the Italian air force, which is the second participant in the AARGM program along with the US Navy, has been using these missiles operationally – also on the Tornado – since 2018. Another user of AARGM in the AGM-88E version in Australia, which uses them on the F / A-18 Hornet, Super Hornet, and Growler planes.

AARGM missiles are also constantly modified to be able to effectively combat newly emerging threats. In the case of anti-radiation weapons, it is in principle always an ongoing process, taking into account the evolution of the air defense systems that they are intended to combat. Therefore, the modifications, also regarding the AARGM software, will continue long after the introduction of the new AARGM-ER version, essentially for the entire life cycle of this missile. The AARGM digital architecture facilitates the implementation of the necessary modifications.

The Northrop Grumman concern plans to continue the production of the AGM-88E AARGM missiles at least until 2025, for a longer period after the end of production it is planned to support the operation of the previously delivered AARGMs. Next year, it is planned to implement a modernization package for the sensors of this missile. It is worth noting that the AARGM and AARGM-ER guidance systems are very similar. Consequently, pilots previously trained in the use of AGM-88E AARGM will be able to quickly switch to the new system. Moreover, databases on threats from the enemy air defense, developed for AARGM, could be used for AARGM-ER.

The AARGM and AARGM-ER missiles will probably be further developed. One of the possible directions is to adapt them to be launched from ground launchers. In this way, the number of missiles available for hitting targets detected by air [or other] means could be increased. Another potential direction is integration with the IBCS combat management system, developed for the US Army air defense. In this way, AARGM missiles could be used to counter targets detected by the air defense system [e.g. radars, rocket launchers]. It can also be assumed that in this case they would be used in parallel with other shock systems such as HIMARS.

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