Northrop Grumman announced that the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI, Italian air force) has completed its operational testing of the AGM-88E AARGM (advanced anti-radiation guided missile) on its Tornado ECR (electronic combat and reconnaissance) aircraft. The flight tests were performed at the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake, California, and culminated in two direct hits on air defense targets. With these tests successfully completed the delivery of AARGM to operational units can proceed.
AARGM has been developed for a joint U.S./Italian government requirement that was launched in 2005, with Orbital ATK as the industry lead. Northrop Grumman acquired Orbital ATK earlier this year, renaming the company its Innovation Systems unit. The AARGM system is based on the original AGM-88 HARM missile that was developed by Texas Instruments and is now produced by Raytheon.
The AGM-88E AARGM version is an update that can be applied to existing weapons. As well as having an enhanced radar-homing antenna for targeting emitting radars, AARGM has GPS and digital signal processor. The main difference, however, is that it adds a millimeter-wave radar seeker for accurate terminal guidance. The new guidance package permits the missile to be targeted against non-radar targets, in turn allowing it to offer a tactically significant capability against time-sensitive targets of opportunity.
A successful initial operational test and evaluation in early 2012 led to a full-rate production decision being made in August that year. The weapon has been fielded by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps on the F/A-18C/D Hornet and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, as well as the EA-18G Growler. The Tornado ECR now becomes the fourth type to be cleared for its use. Apart from development partner Italy, the AARGM has also been sold for use with the Royal Australian Air Force’s EA-18Gs.
News of the Italian milestone came after Northrop Grumman was awarded a $171 million contract by Naval Air Systems Command in late September for Lot 7 full-rate production of the AGM-88E. This Lot covers the conversion of 32 U.S. government-supplied AGM-88Bs into the AARGM configuration. Three are for the U.S. Navy and the remainder for the AMI.
In January, the company (then Orbital ATK) announced a contract from the Navy to develop an AARGM-ER (extended-range) version. The new missile is packaged into an all-new body that can fit inside the internal weapons bay of the F-35 while offering considerably more range than the current weapon. AARGM-ER is believed to feature a double-pulse solid rocket motor.