New Anti-Radiation Missile Flies in Navy Anti-Radar Revamp

 - June 5, 2020, 5:18 AM
A VX-23 F/A-18E carries an AGM-88G AARGM-ER on the weapon’s first captive-carriage flight trials from Patuxent River, Maryland, on June 1. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile—Extended Range (AARGM-ER) made its first captive-carry flight trials on June 1. The missile was taken aloft by a Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter from the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center's VX-23 "Salty Dogs" test and evaluation squadron based at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

During the flight trial, the Super Hornet performed maneuvers to evaluate the missile’s structural characteristics and its integration. Captain Mitch Commerford, who oversees the Direct and Time Sensitive Strike program office (PMA-242), commented that “data collected from this testing will inform the planned build-up and overall expansion of flight testing with AARGM-ER.” The missile is set to achieve initial operational capability in 2023.

AARGM-ER is the latest iteration of a design path that began with the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), which was originally produced by Texas Instruments before being taken over by Raytheon. Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman) developed the AGM-88E AARGM version based on the HARM, but with new control and guidance sections. The latter combines a passive radar seeker with a millimeter-wave radar and GPS/inertial system. The program was conducted as a partnership with the Italian air force, and full-rate production was launched in 2013 for the U.S. Navy and to equip Italian Tornados. Germany and Australia also later ordered the AARGM.

Further development has led to the AGM-88G AARGM-ER, which was contracted for development by the U.S. Navy in January 2018. It marries the AARGM’s warhead, guidance, and control sections in a missile that has revised low-drag tail surfaces, aerodynamic strakes along the side replacing the mid-body wings, and a revised propulsion section for increased fly-out speed and broadly double the range.

AARGM-ER is intended to be a key weapon in anti-access/aerial denial (A2/AD) conditions, able to target hostile radar systems in the destruction of enemy air defenses (DEAD) mission. The missile can still target radars that have been shut down or whose location is known. It will arm the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers, but is also sized for internal carriage in the F-35, and the service has expressed a desire to equip Navy and Marine Corps F-35Bs and Cs with the weapon. Meanwhile, the Air Force is looking at AARGM-ER to form the basis of its Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW), a fast-flying missile carried internally by the F-35A that can attack a range of fixed and relocatable targets in the heavily defended A2/AD environment.

On the same day that the AARGM-ER conducted its first flight test, Lockheed Martin received a contract to develop and certify a retrofit solution “to support the structural requirements for full-up destruction and suppression of enemy air defenses capabilities for Lot 14 and Lot 15 F-35A fighters.” Such work would also benefit the Navy’s F-35Cs, which are scheduled to receive AARGM-ER capability as part of the Block 4 software upgrade.

The F-35’s own electronic warfare suite already provides a limited DEAD/SEAD capability that generates targeting coordinates for GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs, along with the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb and AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon. However, a full-up DEAD/SEAD capability would require additional dedicated weaponry, such as the AARGM-ER and SiAW, and additional electronic sensors that would require hardware modifications to the aircraft.