WASHINGTON — A new modular advanced air-to-air missile will be tested by the US Air Force soon. This was announced by Steve Trimble on his Twitter account. Steve Trimble is the defense editor of Aviation Week. In his tweet, Trimble confirmed that the rocket was an air-to-air missile and that a kinematic demonstration test from a fighter would be conducted.
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The Drive writes that at this stage there is no information about the characteristics of the rocket: it is not known with short, medium, or long-range, whether it is a type of hybrid missile, what types of seekers it uses, or how it drives. Key information that would give some clarity is missing.
However, the rocket is mentioned in a recent BBC budget document, which was made public last week and covers the budget year 2023 and is linked to a request for research, development, testing, and evaluation appropriations [RDT & E].
Experts are thinking about the only thing known so far and that is the presence of “modular” in the definition of the missile. In the first place, it is suggested that perhaps this missile will be adapted to be used by different carriers and in different missions. “Modular” may refer to a type of exchange of accelerators, warheads, and seekers. Another possibility is that seekers, different in type and function, will be integrated into one missile, something that is being done by France and Russia.
If so, according to The Drive, it would be an advantage for the US Air Force to have an AAM that has infrared targeting, but at the same time activates passive engagement of air threats. If this turns out to be the case in the future, the missile will most likely have a longer range than a short-range.
A modular rocket would also mean a modular type of rocket engine or booster. If this is said to be “modular”, then this missile would lead to more flexible options for the US Air Force to choose the missile carrier. It may be the internal missile compartments of the F-35 or F-22, but with the modular engine and its modification, the same missile can be loaded on the B-21 Ryder bomber.
The unknown modular advanced missile could be the Holy Grail for the Air Force. Different seekers, modular engines, different warheads or no warheads, short, medium, or long-range – all things that actually exist, but are not combined and assembled in one weapon system, especially in the air-to-air system. The result would essentially offer a broader AAM menu for different types of commitments and platforms, but with common components that would help reduce costs and reduce logistics requirements.
The existence of a modular advanced missile and its mention in the Air Force budget documents give a different perspective, namely: whether the Air Force is not reviewing its current programs to be optimized in the short term, or whether the dominance of AMRAAM is not threatened by a new type of missile air-to-air? The latter technology is extremely important, as this category also includes missiles from the AIM-9 Sidewinder family, which in recent years have received new versions with increasingly precise and far-reaching targeting.
Last but not least, the unknown modular advanced missile may be part of a larger US Army upgrade plan that includes an entirely new design for the Lockheed Martin AIM-260 or JATM joint advanced tactical missile.
Whatever USAF design or test in the coming months, Pentagon officials expect to exceed the performance of the existing AIM-120 missile to levels that allow it to match the performance of the latest Chinese and Russian air-to-air missiles.
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