Writing on the Wall: The New AIM-260 JATM?

Anyone that has read this blog for any length of time knows we were highly skeptical of pro-American defense press and fanboy material on the range assertions of the AIM-120C-8 "D" AMRAAM-D. However, this did not stop the USAF from claiming the "longest known air-to-air missile shot" in March of 2021 with an "AIM-120" from an F-15C (not from an F-22A). Because the USAF published no other details of the launch - we'll remain skeptical of any ultra-long-range combat capability from a 335 lb weapon. 

More likely the AIM-120 test was triggered by interservice rivalry?

[Below] This photograph appeared on April 19th, 2021: "Raytheon RIM-174 SM-6 missile integrated on a left-wing pylon of a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet in flight." This would be an air-launched version of the SM-6 tried-and-true RIM-174 Standard missile. The Standard weighs in at a hefty 3,300 lb (1,500 kg) and should give the USN excellent long-range capability and a large blast kill-zone under a variety of air-launch scenarios. 
Credit: Michael Grove published in Aviation Week

Both these tests could spell trouble for the AIM-260 program? The services branches appear to be looking for better lower-risk, lower-cost solutions - which is a welcome transformation. We shall see.
Lockheed F-35 fires an AIM-120 AMRAAM

Pentagon is quietly (?) developing a new long-range AIM-54 Phonix/MBDA Meteor class weapon, that can presumably fit inside F-22 and F-35 weapons bays. Currently, the AIM-260 is highly secret, so we have no images of what the weapon might look like as of yet. However, with these new USAF AIM-120 and USN SM-6 tests - the future of the AIM-260 could be unclear presently.
Grumman F-14 underway with six Hughes AIM-54 Phoenix ultra-long-range missiles.

Unless the Pentagon also invests in extremely robust, autonomous, and redundant IFF capabilities - a new AIM-260, or any long-range class weapon - may be of little use in a long-range BVR arena.
Saab Gripen E with two MBDA Meteor long-range BVR missile rounds. 

The below was first published back in June 2019 here

"DAYTON, Ohio—Lockheed Martin is developing a new air-dominance missile for the U.S. Air Force and Navy with significantly greater range than the AIM-120 Amraam as a counter to China’s new PL-15 weapon, a top U.S. Air Force official says. 

The AIM-260 is scheduled to begin flight testing in 2021 and achieve initial operational capability in 2022, said Brig. Gen. Anthony Genatempo, the Air Force’s program executive officer for weapons. 

The disclosure, during a June 20 interview with Aerospace DAILY on the sidelines of Life Cycle Industry Days here, reveals a major initiative that had been cloaked in secrecy for more than two years. 

A joint Air Force/Navy program office awarded Lockheed the contract in 2017 after a competitive acquisition phase, Genatempo said. 

That timing is consistent with the public disclosure of the existence of China’s new PL-15 missile, an air dominance weapon advertised with greater range than the Raytheon AIM-120D. The Chinese Air Force publicly displayed the weapon at the Zhuhai air show last November, with an AVIC J-20 performing a flyby with an open weapons bay filled with four PL-15s. 

The Air Force and Navy quickly responded with a rapid acquisition project, but chose not to disclose it until June 20. 

Few details about the AIM-260 are disclosed. Genatempo called the weapon “JATM,” which is understood to stand for the Joint Air Tactical Missile (JATM). He noted the weapon does not use ramjet propulsion and is compatible with the form-factor of the AIM-120. 

This journalist asked how the AIM-260 achieves significantly greater range than the AIM-120D, yet is closely similar in size. Asked if the weapon uses a more efficient motor or propellant or if it perhaps employs a smaller weapon to accommodate additional fuel volume, Genatempo replied that each of those options are in the trade space for achieving greater range. 

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is continuing to investigate additional next generation missiles, such as the Miniature Self-Defense Munition and Small Advanced Capability Missile (SACM), Genatempo says. "

Your Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. For BVR identification a group of systems and techniques should be used together such as IFF, FLIR, ESM, NCTI mode radar, ISAR ... The F-35 is the fighter with the most parameters for identifying a target. Each target receives a level of confidence from their identification.

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    1. In 1991 AWACS would watch Iraqi aircraft launching from their bases and could deplare them hostile almost immediately. Favorable (for using BVR) Air Tasking Orders were also in place. Whether we have this luxury in a future with peer adversary, time will tell. We certainly had nothing even remotely like this over Syria. 1991 will likely be less frequent than the more complicated arenas like Syria. Your airplanes and weapons need to be designed to still dominate even if operating under geopolitical and ATO restrictions.
      - Boresight

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  2. I am on public record claiming their AIM-120 "longest known air to air missile shot" to be obvious BS, for several reasons.
    First, as it usually goes, they claim something, but they don't reveal what they claim and cover it with some "secrecy". This time they didn't specify how long that shot was, because it would supposedly reveal their real capability to their adversaries. As it always eventually turns out, such events are later either forgotten, or revealed to be fictional. It has happened everytime they did this, we know the story.
    Second, the 120 was not designed to be a very long range missile and it's also fairly lightweight in comparison to missiles designed to be capable of really long ranges. And there are such missiles in service. It's perfectly understandable the 120 would not be able to reach as far as purposely designed missiles for the task. It's just common sense.
    Third, it has been demonstrated during an exercise (with foreign observers) in 1994 that the R-37 can hit targets 300km distant. This is roughly twice the best AIM-120 can do officially. R-37 is built visibly with different goals in mind than the 120. RuAF declares it is considered to have 398km (not 400km) range, because that's the furthest range they tested its abilities to hit flying targets. That's about 260% of the best AIM-120 variant. And since then, RuAF has received a newer version of the 37 and also they have another different long range AA missile in procracted development.
    And now, the USAF is trying to tell me they can do better with their ordinary medium-range missile? What on Earth are they going to claim next?
    And if the AMRAAM have been capable of reaching targets at over twice the known range, then why would anyone want the 260?
    They can't be right. It's as simple as that.
    And I'm not even mentioning my doubts about their 260 supposed specifications. They seem to be overly fantastic, but I'm not going to say it's 100% impossible.
    What I am sure about is, the program will be once again, over budget both in temporal and financial terms.

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  3. hi Catus, I'm inclined to agree with you. The longest missile shot in the world from a 335 lb weapon is highly suspicious. No details of the launch were published so god knows what the USAF is doing. I suppose an F-15 at +60,000 ft flying at Mach 2+ could make a 335lb weapon fly real far even after motor burnout (if the AIM-120 has the battery power?) and glide using kinetic energy to a cooperative target drone down at much lower altitude. I don't know. The USN is testing a air-launched RIM-174 SM-6 missile that is 3,300 lb (1,500 kg) each, and that would be a good long-range BVR weapon regardless of launch scenario. I'm happy the service branches are looking at lower-risk, lower-cost solutions. Yes the new R-37 should be a big problem for AWACS and air-tankers.

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    1. It is certainly possible to make a 335lb missile to travel further than 200km, especially if it's launched from a launching platform flying high and fast. All it needs to do is to climb even higher and fly using ballistic trajectory.
      I would be even inclined to agree an AIM-120 airframe could be made to fly 400km+ if there was a special autopilot designed for it (making it fly the vest possible trajectory) and the payload (warhead, radar, few other things) was removed. I would not be surprised if they even tried something like that during its development. It's not an entirely unreasonable test.
      However, I am a bit skeptical about the real, equipped missile, being able to suddenly intercept a target at 200%+ its stated range, especially when its not designed to use high ballistic trajectories (apogee over 50km), because it's not designed to reach extreme distances.
      Perhaps I am wrong, I know that.
      To get an answer, we would need to simulate it, because (unless I am missing something) there isn't much publicly available data about the matter. Physics is known, but we are missing details.
      Just to illustrate the problem, someone tried to get an answer for the AIM-54(a long range missile by design, comparable with more modern AIM-120 in the range department). They didn't reach all that further than its stated range:
      https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://media.heatblur.se/AIM-54.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwjNnNHWlMLwAhXGk4sKHaVFCZAQFjADegQIChAC&usg=AOvVaw1oQGK_sytvlkKQkw6DcPIU&cshid=1620754876802
      Even if the 120 was in every way better, assuming similar finding than guys simulating the 54 for a video game (yes, I admit the motive and their means are not all that serious), I don't believe twice the "in service" range would be reachable even against a cooperating target (high supersonic flying towards the missile).
      Unless, they've been testing something new, like AIM-260's propulsion system? Provided it is even feasible.
      But I have a perfect explanation: if they are confronted, they might claim, the record is specific to US missiles only. And that is something I will believe. Even if they claim they outrange the Meteor, or something else. If we move the goal-post, then they won.
      Unless we count those air-launched SAM missile tests. If I get a SAM missile designed to outrange the AMRAAM and I launch it from the same platform that launches those AMRAAMs, it will get further without question. Or perhaps if I mount a booster on my AMRAAM? After all, various missiles are multistaged, why not do the same for an AA missile, if my platform can carry extra weight and my guidance systems are good enough for some extra range? Ironically, the venerable R-27 can use those (Soviets understood rockets very well and some say, even Houthis did the same when they hit the F-15 with a ground launched one).
      They still might be right, but only if they are not telling the whole truth. Until then, I strongly disagree.

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    2. Hi Cactus, agreed. I should have considered lofting trajectory if the launch platform was in a climb when the weapon was released. I agree that whatever the USAF has claimed here it might be possible, but not probable, that the test has much utility under actual combat conditions. Perhaps more details will emerge. And yes the Houthis have been incredibly resourceful.

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    3. Houthis must be getting help. They are sometimes so good, it's obvious they can't do all that by themselves.
      That's the reason why it's generally understood they get support from elsewhere. Iran and Hezbollah, probably even Syrian government directly.
      Saudis on the other hand, only prove that no matter how expensive your toys are, you might still achieve nothing.

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    4. Hi Cactus, Ah yes I remember Battle of Khafji in 1991. Not a steller display to be sure.

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    5. Good Lord, I don't. I only read about it. I had 2 years back then :)

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