Australia is likely to become the first international user of Raytheon’s AIM-120D, the latest, extended range variant US Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM). An Australian request for the new missiles was recently approved by the US State Department, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress.
The Australian Defence is planning to acquire 450 such missiles to equip the Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet and Growler aircraft as well as the F-35A. The acquisition could be worth US$1.22 billion. According to DSCA, the sale will provide the RAAF additional air-to-air intercept capability and increase interoperability with the U.S. Air Force.
The Royal Australian Air force (RAAF) currently operates its Hornets and Super Hornets with AIM-120C-7 medium range, radar guided missiles for engagements beyond visual range (BVR), and AIM-132 ASRAAM infrared homing missiles in close-in short-range engagements. Australia plans to equip its future F-35A with the AIM-120D (BVR) and AIM-9X-II short-range air/air missiles.
The AIM-120D is the newest air-to-air weapon in the U.S. arsenal that has significant capability improvements over previous AMRAAM versions, including increased range, GPS-aided navigation, two-way data link and improved kinematic performance. Although some of the 36 international AMRAAM operators have requested access to the new variant, Washington sofar refused the sale of the missile, considered a key ‘overmatch’ over potential opponents. “The AIM-120D represents a significant improvement in air-to-air weapons capabilities and the technologies it brings to the battlefield give U.S. warfighters an unmatched advantage in the air-to-air arena.” Explained Ron Krebs, AMRAAM program director for Raytheon Missile Systems.
In long-range engagements AMRAAM heads for the target using inertial guidance (GPS was added to the D model) and receives updated target information via data link from the launch aircraft. It transitions to a self-guiding terminal mode when the target is within range of its own monopulse radar set. The AIM-120 also has a “home-on-jam” guidance mode to counter electronic jamming. Upon intercept an active-radar proximity fuze detonates the warhead to destroy the target. At closer ranges AMRAAM is able to guide itself using its own radar, freeing the launch aircraft to engage other targets.
As the latest type of air/air missile in US inventory, AIM-120D has achieved initial operational service with US Navy F/A-18 in 2015. The US Air Force also plans to deploy the missile with F-16, F15, F-22 and F-35, following the completion of operational evaluation and testing.