In South Australia, AIM-120s killed target drones flying at 5,000ft

The tranquil atmosphere was shattered by the powerful roar of a rocket engine, as the first live fire of the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile [NASAMS] by Australia tore through the sky. 

In South Australia, AIM-120s killed target drones flying at 5,000ft
Photo credit: Australian DoD

Almost immediately, within a span of two seconds, a second missile followed suit, its trail marked with jet fuel. Fifteen kilometers away, visible flashes signified the destruction of the target drones flying at an altitude of 5000 feet. 

This impressive display underscored the abilities of the 16th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, as they gear up to join the ranks of the 10th Brigade, set to be established as the Army’s fires brigade in Adelaide. 


Lieutenant Matthew Hall, the Tactical control officer, was the first to initiate a ground launch of the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile [AMRAAM] in Australia. The experience, he shared from within the Fire Distribution Centre [FDC], felt less like deploying a live missile and more akin to playing a video game. 

Reflecting on the moment, Lieutenant Hall stated, “It’s been a long year and everyone was incredibly thrilled to successfully launch one, particularly given it was the first firing in Australia.”

Spain has deployed the short- to medium-range NASAMS in Latvia
Photo credit: Kongsberg


The Fire Distribution Centre [FDC], essentially a half-sized shipping container mounted on an HX77, is jam-packed with communication devices and data-collecting tools. These instruments work together, gathering valuable data which is transmitted back through radars and cameras. 

Inspecting the interior, you’ll find the left wall lined with radio equipment and the right, decked out with communication panels. At the front, two screens command attention. These belong to the tactical control officer and their deputy. These screens, alive with real-time feed from infrared cameras and radars, are operated by a joystick for precision control. 

In South Australia, AIM-120s killed target drones flying at 5,000ft
Photo credit: Australian DoD

All the data collected is then analyzed to distinguish ally from enemy, as showcased on the radar. Lieutenant Hall provides an insightful explanation, “The electro-optical/infrared’s primary function is similar to a standard camera; it allows us to view ongoing activities much like watching regular television. Additionally, an IR camera is in play, designed to pick up heat signatures from aircraft and their jet engines.” 

Potential threats identified on the FDC screens are meticulously tracked and labeled with a transponder code. This classification depends on whether they are civilian aircraft, military jets, or hostile enemy planes. 

Each missile, a sophisticated product by Raytheon known as AMRAAM, weighs close to 140 kilograms. Measuring three meters in length, and carrying a hefty price tag of $US1.5 million each, they are an integral part of the defense system.

Protection from air targets

In March of 2019, an exciting development took place in Australian defense technology. The government announced its intention to combine the radar technology of CEA Technologies with the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System [NASAMS] from Raytheon/Kongsberg. This marriage of technologies will lead to a new air defense system being created under a project worth AUD 2.5 billion [US$1.64 billion]. 

The significant progress made in this defense endeavor was exemplified during the Australian Army’s live test-firing of a Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM [Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile] using the novel NASAMS system. This critical step in the system’s functional demonstration comes four years after the original order was placed. 

The new system boasts an integration between a Kongsberg launch platform, an AIM-120 missile, and a CEAMount fire control radar supplied by CEA Technologies. This synergy promises a more robust and efficient defense mechanism. 

Uniquely designed to shield against both present and futuristic air threats, the system can defend against indirect weapons, uncrewed airborne vehicles, air-dropped artillery, and aircraft. As such, it represents a major leap forward in air defense technology.

Goodbye RBS 70 MANPAD

The anticipated deployment of this new system marks a significant upgrade for the Australian Defence Force, superseding the less robust RBS 70 MANPAD systems currently in use. 

The Army’s Chief, Lt Gen Simon Stuart, sees this move as a massive leap towards confronting the issues set out in the Defence Strategic Review. 

In no uncertain terms, Stuart stated, ‘The launch of this top-tier capability sets a landmark on the path of transformation of the army, made possible through the support of our defense industry partners. The introduction of NASAMS will ensure the army’s seamlessness with the broader Australian Defence Force and coalition armies, thereby facilitating an integrated air and missile defense.’


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