Lockheed Test Pilot Calls For Longer Range AIM-120

AIM-120San Diego, Calif. — The U.S. military needs a longer range AIM-120 to fully utilize the advances made by America’s fifth generation fleet — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor, said one of Lockheed Martin’s top test pilots.

The AIM-120 is an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile and America’s premiere air-to-air weapon in the fleet. The latest model, the D-model, can fly Mach 4 with a range of about 180 kilometers or about 97 nautical miles. William Gigliotti, Lockheed Martin’s lead test pilot at the Fort Worth site, said he wants to see that range extended to take advantage of the advanced radars inside the F-22 and F-35.

He highlighted the recent advances made by the Chinese and the range of their missile defenses and fighter aircraft. 

“When we war game it out, that’s the Achilles heel of the U.S. fighter fleet,” Gigliotti said referring to the AIM-120 at a F-35 panel session at a Navy conference here. Two other Navy F-35 pilots and one Marine Corps F-35 aviator, who also sat on the panel, agreed with Gigliotti.

Gigliotti didn’t challenge the U.S. military to develop an improved variant. He instead challenged the defense industry to start developing one now.

Of course, the Air Force and Navy are in the last stages of operational testing for the AIM-120 D model. Most aircraft are equipped with the AIM-120C3-C7 variants.

Operational testing on the D-model was delayed when the Pentagon halted the program in 2009 to allow Raytheon, the lead contractor, to address four performance and reliability deficiencies. The program was restarted in 2012, but was then again delayed because of sequestration funding levels.

Besides the F-35 and the F-22, the AIM-120 is also carried by the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 along with other fighters.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • BlackOwl18E

    You mean to tell me this test pilot just said what everyone already knows?

    I’ll give you guys a hint on why this was not done earlier: “The program was restarted in 2012, but was then again delayed because of sequestration funding levels.”

    The funds for a longer range AIM-120D were taken and fed to the F-35 program. In fact, those funds are still being fed to the F-35 program right now. The Navy already has been saying for a while that what will matter in the future are payloads more and platforms less, which is why they want more Super Hornets and are still trying to ditch the F-35C against the OSD’s wishes.

    Let me give you the real translation of what these test pilots just said: “The F-35 is insufficient for future combat without better missiles.”

    Sound familiar to anyone? The F-35 is so expensive that everything must die in order for it to live.

    The Russians are already aware of this dilemma and openly said they are doing something about it a long time ago: http://rt.com/news/t50-missile-advanced-guidance-

    They have a new version of the R-77 in development for the PAK-FA that will field an AESA radar seeker (essentially the same thing we were probably doing with the AIM-120D AMRAAM). The Russians have found that producing AESA radar guided missiles is extremely expensive, but their conclusion was that if these new missiles can practically guarantee hitting and killing their target from extremely long ranges they’re worth the cost. We’re not gonna find funds like that in a budget dominated by the JSF. Our F-35 test pilots are only just now talking about this.

    • Dfens

      Ok then, let’s kill the JSF so we can fund a missile development program. Brilliant. And the US taxpayer gets zero for the $200 billion they’ve currently sunk into JSF and our forces will continue to fly 1970’s era aircraft for the next 3 decades assuming JSF is replaced by another new fighter program tomorrow. Oh, and fighter boy will personally guarantee the next fighter program will be way better than the last one, because that’s the way things always go. Dontcha know. The next airplane program is always better than the last one, right up to the time they start building airplanes. But I guess the American taxpayer is supposed to be too stupid to notice that. Apparently the fighter jocks certainly are.

      • BlackOwl18E

        I did not say to kill the whole program. Dfens, you’ve seen my posts. You know that I just want the F-35B and F-35C cancelled. Those two alone would free up enough funds for a lot of things. I think we should let the USAF have the F-35A. They’ll just get bankrupt over it anyway and it’ll be fun to watch that happen.

        Honestly, the next fighter program for the Navy will be different and the reason it will be different is because the Navy has already started work on it in advance and they are doing it with lessons learned from the F-35 program, most notably don’t involve partner nations and don’t make an all-purpose aircraft. The Navy wants F/A-XX, which they have designed to be a purpose built machine for the carrier enviroment. I think F/A-XX will turn out well. The Super Hornet will do fine until then as long as it has good ordnance and the Growler with the NGJ. The Navy knows this, which is why they are fighting hard for it. The only question is if Boeing can keep the Super Hornet line long enough till then.

        • Dfens

          The Navy gave up good airplanes to keep the F-18, but now they know what it takes to build a good airplane? Right. Hell, the Navy told us F-35 was a good airplane up until now. Which lie are we supposed to believe? And by the way, they always have another program in the works, and it is always better than the current program. Hell, I know how that goes better than anyone. I helped pitch CSA to the Navy. That f’er was going to make fuel during cruise. We guaranteed it. Because there’s no lie the Navy believes as much in as the lie they want to believe. And that’s why the defense contractors are rich.

          • BlackOwl18E

            Dfens, thank you for being honest. I seriously think you’re wrong on this issue and I would like you to give me a reason why you think that. The Super Hornet actually does compensate for the capabilities of every one of the aircraft it replaced (with the only exception being the S-3 Viking’s sub hunting role). It is about 90% of the fighter that the Tomcat was at less than 50% the cost. That’s a big deal, especially when you can create a fighter like that in numbers and operate them cheaply. The Super Hornet with the AIM-120D (which is supposed to have an engagement range of 120 miles when finished) is an interceptor on level with the Tomcat and its nearly 100 mile AIM-54 Pheonix missiles. The Navy was actually betting on the AIM-120 being finished well before now and with it the Super Hornet would have been able to do the long range intercept role on a level pretty comparable to the F-14. However, things didn’t go as planned and they didn’t count of the F-35C and F-35B soaking that money up.

            The Super Hornet has actually saved the Navy a lot of money by funneling all of the capabilities of the aircraft it replaced into a single air frame via advanced systems. It may not do them all spectacularly, but it does them well enough to get the job done in the hands of a good pilot. And unlike a lot of programs, the Super Hornet actually delivered on its promises. It was on time, it was cheap, it was reliable, maintainable, and easily able to accept upgrades. The Navy does know how to build good airplanes and the Super Hornet proves that. The full Hornet/Super Hornet force that we have now is much cheaper to operate than our old Carrier Air Wing, while maintaining all of the capability. If you need one capability done more effectively you simply increase the number of Hornets/Super Hornets sent on that specific mission, which the Navy can affordably do when they have a full tactical Air Wing of them.

          • Dfens

            Neither the F-14 nor the A-6 had to tank as soon as it got off the deck. That’s unique to the F-18. The F-14 could carry more ordnance farther and was faster and a better interceptor than the F-18 even though it never did have the engines it was designed to have. Hell, if they had retrofitted the F-14 with F119s it would show the F-22 what supercruise really is, and do it at M2.5.

            The A-6 also did not need to tank when it got off the carrier, would carry a huge bomb load, and was such an effective bomb truck in Vietnam that often the N. Vietnamese would beg the US to stop sending in B-52 strikes when it was actually A-6 Intruders bombing the hell out of them.

            The F-18 does nothing well. It can’t carry a big bomb load or enough fuel due to the supersonic wing. It can’t fly supersonic well because it’s a flying barn door. The only major improvement I see in the E/F is that the vortex bubble burst doesn’t take the verticals off anymore. Pilots love their planes. Everyone knows that. Hell, that’s why all of Lockheed’s CSA “configurations” looked like S-3 derivatives. Nothing gives an S-3 pilot a woody like seeing a souped up version of his own airplane, but by any objective measure the F-18 is a total failure, and the E/F is good money after bad. You can bolt a new avionics box on any airplane, but you can’t make a crap airplane better even by scaling it up. And as for “cost effective”, if we really wanted to be cost effective we wouldn’t have a navy. Cost effective my ass.

          • BlackOwl18E

            That is the exact reason why Boeing is promoting the conformal fuel tanks for the Super Hornet series. The Navy is able to compensate for that.

            Also, that is statement about the F/A-18 doing nothing well is simply not true at all. It’s flexible and good at a lot of things in the tactical spectrum, which is exactly what Boeing built it for. The Super Hornet can go toe-to-toe with any threat in the air and it can carry a decent payload for destroying things on the ground. It doesn’t do ground like the A-6, but it definitely does it well enough that if you have enough Super Hornets you wouldn’t need the A-6 at all. The F/A-18 an objective failure? Seriously that’s makes no sense. A full force of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets with advanced weapons is roughly just as effective and even better in some areas while being much cheaper to operate that the mixed force we had before.

            Okay you completely lost me at “we wouldn’t have a navy.” Are you just anti-military all together? Do you think we should all put down our weapons and become pacifists? Is that your definition of the ideal “cost effective” solution? You certainly have no problem saying a lot of negative things about the system, but you have not brought any solutions to the problems you mention. Seriously, what do you think we should do about this?

          • Dfens

            I think we should use the best airplane for the job and not compromise to “cost effective.” Cost effective is crap. All cost effective has ever done is killed good weapons in favor of bad. And by the way, Boeing didn’t design the F-18, Northrop did, and all those conformal tanks are going to do is increase the drag in proportion to the amount of fuel increase. They make a bad design worse, not better. Hell, if Boeing really wanted to increase the range of the F-18 they’d put tip tanks on the wings.

          • BlackOwl18E

            You know what I meant regarding the design of the F-18. And Boeing has already conducted tests with the Conformal Fuel tanks. The numbers are already out and the Super Hornet with the conformal fuel tanks can fly farther than the F-35C can. The tanks are proven to work and will give a significant range difference, allowing the Super to carry weapons a lot farther. Drag is not really an issue, in fact the Super has far less drag with the conformals than with the external fuel tanks.

            So what you’re saying is we should have a more expensive fleet of mixed tactical aircraft purpose built for different roles rather than one aircraft that can do it all good enough at a cheap price.

            Okay. I buy that. I disagree, but I understand where you’re coming from.

          • The F-18 in any variant doesn’t match the Tomcat. If the earlier Tomcats had the engine that the last D versions did they would have been so much better. The Phoenix was a heavier hitter that the 120.

          • Trons Away

            February 2054 defense tech.org comment:
            “No variant of the Veritech Fighter can match the Super Hornet. I don’t care if it can fly in space and transform into a robot with karate chop hands and a giant laser cannon. Zentradi and their Sukhois will fill the sky with blood now that the Super Hornets are gone.”

            Bet me…

          • Dfens

            Yes, that’s it exactly. The thing is existing aircraft have a a huge lobby group. Their pilot’s and crews love them, and the manufacturers love to build them. At some point, though, you’ve got to move on, especially with aircraft like the F-18 that has done little to distinguish itself with anything other than avionics. Hell, I’ve met Gene Adams (father of the F-18 avionics system) and he’s a great guy, but even he has moved on from the F-18.

          • Tiger

            Jack of all trades; Master of None.

      • drone

        In economics, a sunk cost is any past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered. For example, a business may have invested a million dollars into new hardware. This money is now gone and cannot be recovered, so it shouldn’t figure into the business’s decision making process.

        Or, let’s say you buy tickets to a concert. On the day of the event, you catch a cold. Even though you are sick, you decide to go to the concert because otherwise “you would have wasted your money”.

        Boom! You just fell for the sunk cost fallacy.

        Sure, you spent the money already. But you can’t get it back. If you aren’t going to have a good time at the concert, you only make your life worse by going.

        • Dfens

          The F-18 is an under powered, aerodynamic nightmare, fuel inefficient piece of crap. So I’m going to give up on the new piece of crap that at least has stealth for the old piece of crap? No thank you very much. The Navy gave up on a bunch of good airplanes to keep the current piece of crap, and then they tell us the next program is going to be better? I wasn’t born yesterday.

          • Stormcharger

            As interesting as that assertion may be, perhaps you could cite some operational data to back it up? And what good airplanes did the Navy give up on?

        • Jeff M

          The hole in your analogy is that you know you’ll have to go to a concert eventually, you know we’ll need a replacement aircraft eventually. The only way to actually save money is to SKIP a generation of aircraft, which we do all the time, but not this time.

          • Dfens

            Hell, it’s been over 30 years since the Navy had a new airplane now. How long do you think a generation actually lasts?

      • S O

        “And the US taxpayer gets zero for the $200 billion they’ve currently sunk into JSF”

        You wrote it yourself: “sunk”.
        Sunk costs are irrelevant.

        The point about not wanting to use 1970’s-designs in the 2020’s is valid, but the sunk costs are no valid argument whatsoever.

        • Dfens

          If $200 billion is nothing to you, then you deserve what you’re going to get.

          • S O

            No matter what decision is done, the 200 billion are gone.

            Make two lists of advantages and disadvantages for cancellation and program continuation each.
            The 200 billion appear on both lists or on none, for the choice doesn’t change their expenditure. The choice makes no difference; the billions are spent already.
            It’s plain wrong, irrational, to take them into account (unless you were responsible for the waste and try to cover it up). Most people understand the sunk costs fallacy at least after it’s been explained to them.

          • Dfens

            Yeah, if only we’d listen to the bean counters. They will save us.

          • S O

            Well, those who fail basic math and logic surely won’t.

      • Bernard

        The JSF needs to be junked, in 20 years manned fighters will be obsolete and drones will control the skies. That’s what we need to focus on. People keep underestimating the advancement of computer technology, things are changing fast.

    • XB-70

      What we need is the AIM-54 Phoenix it still has a classified rang. The Iranians shot down a test drone from 230 miles away. That is what we need!

      • Dfens

        Nothing could carry it anymore. Plus, I’m not really sure it could hit anything. The old mechanical sweep radars were pretty slow. The Phoenix with a new escan radar might be ok, although I’d argue that passive seeker missiles are more appropriate for today’s air to air conflicts. All a radar does is announce its presence to the world and even with escanning, it’s hell to keep track of a target with a closing speed as high as M5.

        • Lance

          Id say the Super Hornet is a flop for a pure fleet defender escort fighter. Face it the magical AIM-120D is not operational. The F-18 is a lot slower and has shorter range and payload the F-14 it replaced had. The F-14 died due to tactics Dick Cheney had in both influence in the Navy and personal fiancés in Boeing. The F-18 both in A/C and E/F model where not meant to replace the F-14 they were replacements for the A-7 and A-6 attack planes. Face it this one airframe model makes a less capable Navy strike Wing then a more expensive multi platform fleet would. This must be cheap model shows how narrow minded the navy is since they keep saying all wars will be like Iraq and will not need fighters or fleet defenders. face it a flight of F-18 Super Hornets would be blown out of the air in a raid again Iran since they still have F-14s and since running out of AIM-54s now use the Russian copy which is the AA-9 Amos missile. Total reliance in the AIM-120 when new Missiles are needed is a poor military brass idiocy idea. A new AA missile may need to come, its not the AIM-120D.

        • Lance

          Sorry Defens is right The f-14 and F-111 where both the only planes who carried them the pathetic F-18 cannot carry such a heavy missile. The USAF never tried to field them so its unknown if the F-15 or F-22 could carry one. If so they could only carry 2 of them.

      • reality

        Plus it was designed to hit the jets that would be going after the fleet, which were large jets such as Bears and Backfire bombers, not SU-35’s. The phoenix is not meant to be as maneuverable as them. you want a 200 mile missile, need to design one, the Phoenix is not up there to be going after PAK-50’s or such.

      • Tiger

        Rules of Engagement make this long range shot talk, a red herring. Nobody is going weapons free without a clear ID of a target first.

  • ATC

    In addition, if your platforms are so expensive (& unreliable) that you have fewer of them in the air, then surely you need longer range missiles to cover a given airspace.

    Should probably ditch the AIM 120 in favour of the Meteor, but not sure if it fits in F35/F22 weapons bays.

    • Musson

      What good is a 120 mile missile when your Rules of Engagement require visual inspection?

      • Nessuno

        Boom. There it is. The most unappreciated obstacle to American forces in a next generation Pacific conflict.

        The opening waves of the conflict will be a blood bath while the politicians in Washington adjust to the new reality.

        Will it then be too late?

        That probably depends on how many aircraft we have, but with skyrocketing costs, that doesn’t look good.

      • Bernard

        You could get visual confirmation from a camera on board the missile. Just leave the warhead inactive until the it’s satellite link provides authorization. Unless we gain confidence enough to let the on board computer decide.

    • S O

      Longer range AAMs are not necessarily about longer combat ranges.

      A longer nominal range is the by-product of a more energetic propulsion, which may be pursued mostly to have a high thrust left during the terminal engagement (thrust still available = thrust vectoring agility available, and possibly the chance to engage the dodging and thus slowed-down target a second time after a miss).

  • Jacob

    So in 20-30 years’ time, when we’re about to replace the AMRAAM with whatever comes next, will we still be calling it the “advanced” medium-range air-to-air missile? For that matter, if we’re going to improve its range, maybe the second letter won’t be descriptive of the missile anymore either.

    • blight_


    • Mystick

      It will probably have “Joint” in the alphabet soup, if the trends to this point are followed.

      • blight_

        AMRAAM will be renamed to JAMRAAM.

        sed -i ‘s/^/J/’

  • superraptor

    Just team up with the Israelis. The next generation Raphael AAMs are in the works. Forget Raytheon. They will not be able to pull it off. Then there is the Meteor missile. We have options, why not apply them.

    • Ben


    • david

      And if we did that the Israelis would probably give the tech to China like they always do. No thanks!

      • blight_

        I suppose if Arrow and Iron Dome find their way into China you might have a leg to stand on. I thought Phalcon didn’t go to China, though Lavi may or may not have.

        We’ve used Israel as a cutout for American tech transfer before: remember Iran Contra? Israelis were already supplying Iran to fight Iraq and they just added TOW and Hawks to it on our command.

  • Liv

    Here’s my question: if the Raptor fires the AMRAAM at super cruise, doesn’t it already have a range advantage from that momentum?

    • Dfens

      It would if the F-22 actually had super-cruise. The term super-cruise was intended to mean that the F-22 would be capable of routinely cruising at around Mach 2 like the Concorde civilian airplane designed in the 1970s. Instead, because of the poor supersonic performance of the F-22, the term was dumbed down to mean the airplane can cruise without staying in after-burner (it has to employ the after-burner to get supersonic and only then can it cruise supersonic), but then it’s range is cut by nearly an order of magnitude.

  • Dfens

    “Gigliotti didn’t challenge the U.S. military to develop an improved variant. He instead challenged the defense industry to start developing one now.” Gigliotti must be from Colorado if he thinks that’s going to happen. The defense contractors make an incredibly thin profit margin. The only way they can sustain themselves with a 10-15% profit margin is by completely eliminating all risk. If the military wants the contractors to go out and develop crap on their own, they could pay their contractors higher profit margins, but with no real incentive for these contractors to develop anything on their own funds, the most likely scenario is that the stockholders and company executives would simply pocket that money. The bottom line is, if you want the contractors to develop weapons on their own, then fix the procurement system so it rewards that.

    • Stan

      While I agree that defense industry would not do this on its own dime, 10-15% profit margin is spectacular especially considering who is paying. You want an example of a small profit margin, look at Amazon.

      • Dfens

        No, airplanes aren’t books. The aviation industry traditionally made a much higher profit margin back when they were developing their own airplanes. That’s how they could afford to do it. It’s great to clear 10%. If that’s your bottom line profit, then that’s fantastic, but the 10% aerospace companies make on defense contracts still has to be adjusted for overhead costs. Sadly, it’s a really f’ed up system.

    • blight_

      The problem is that 10-15% cost-plus is per project, and unless they can bill every employee in the company to it, it means that 10-15% per project is split between employees not on the project in question and the shareholders.

      Crap, I just gave LM another idea…

      • Dfens

        Exactly. Don’t worry, though, Lockheed has already figured that one out and has found ever more elaborate ways to charge what would normally be considered overhead directly to contracts. Now they have it set up so that corporate executives are considered a direct charge to the contract. It’s actually too bad they can’t figure out a way to make janitors a direct charge. Then maybe they’d clean those rat infested facilities once in a while. Damn Boeing too. Those cube farms are chock full of toxic waste.

        • blight_

          For NIH/NSF etc research grants in the US, the institution typically skims off half the money as protection money…I mean, “indirects”.

          Investigator A gets 10m to investigate cancer, the institution takes 5-6M. In exchange, you still have to pay for core facility services, employ techs and grad students, buy equipment while they provide bathrooms, janitor, light and water…which doesn’t seem like it should be half of a research grant. Everyone screws the government, even state and private research institutions on grant funds. Luckily the computing facilities are paid for out of indirects, and my research actually involves said facilities. I pity the microbiologists who are getting money skimmed to pay for a supercomputer they have nothing to do with!

          It’s kind of like health insurance: when you don’t know what you’re paying for, the numbers are just fudged so that you can make what you feel is appropriate. Then when you’re forced to itemize, you’re pilling people twenty bucks a tablet, which is always hilarious and embarrassing.

          • Dfens

            Hell, that’s nothing. The big aerospace companies get about $350 an hour for engineering labor. I’d be more than happy to see even 1/4th of that.

          • blight_

            Different ways to screw the taxpayer. StateU is playing for chump change.

            NIH isn’t as rich as the DoD, you know

          • Dfens

            Better to kill than heal, apparently.

      • S O

        No, cost accounting takes into account the personnel costs including the overhead costs.
        Any “profit margin” is on top of ALL costs.

  • Lance

    I agree forget the AIM-120 we need a new AIM missile period. Navy lost performance BIG time when Dick Cheney. Force out the F-14 and its AIM-54 missiles which have longer range and are faster then the AIM-120 series missiles. We should look at new technology in this area. I do caution on this AIM-120D its been delayed several time seems they can get it to work just right more emphasis to look into a new missiles for Raptors and Eagles.

    • ronaldo

      Where do you get these numbers ? The Phoenix shouldn’t even be in this conversation as it was engineered for an entirely different mission……not a ” dog fight’ missile at all. It was engineered to climb to cruise at between 80-100,000 ft and then plunge UNPROPELLED down to it’s enemy target.

      It was so ill conceived for a fighter on fighter mission that only ONE was ever fired in combat….in Iraq and the results were never known.

      Geez guys…do you homework !

      • Lance

        No the AIM-54 was a full supersonic missile and the Iranians in the Iran Iraq war shot everything from MiG-21s 23s and 25s to Mirage F-1s and SU-22s with them. DO some Homework on the Iran Iraq war and get info from more than wikipedia Need a fleet defender and missile to do this modern Chinese or Russian bombers can shoot fleets of sea skimming anti-ship missiles at a carrier and be flying back home before a AIM-120 armed Hornet can engage one. Your the one who seem seems to be not doing your home work you think all wars will be like Iraq or Afghanistan where ships will never be a target. Ronaldo do your home work go rent some books.

        • Tiger

          Just because you think you can shoot that far, does not mean I’m going to get clearance to fire on a Unknown, without ID, That may not be a threat.

      • Atomic Walrus

        Just about all air-to-air missiles have a rocket motor that burns out before the terminal maneuvering phase. Phoenix was designed to hit targets at long range. If employed properly, the target would never know it was coming. Definitely not a dog fight missile, but as you note, it was never meant to be.

        • S O

          Just about all antique ones may do.
          There are booster-sustainer rocket engines and restartable rocket engines in use.

  • Tribulationtime

    Easy!. 1) Twin Update INS 2) on-board radar with AESA (like fighters radar update, maybe bigger diameter) 3) expendable booster 4) Carrie them on dedicate comformal external stores 5) Purpouse: first volley from + 250 km.

  • Salva

    What a joke!!After all the money spend on this turkey, now they asking for a longer range missile.!!.is it not ?? the idea of stealth, to give you the ability to get close to your enemy and stab(short range aam) him in the back without warning??.what a croc?..how come we don’t hear non-stealth a/c fighter pilots(F15,F16,F18 ) asking for longer range aam.instead of spending all that money developing ultra expensive stealth a/c,why not instead concentrate on developing a long range stealth aam?.i mean if we make mach 2+ F22 stealth a/c, why not a mach3, long range stealth aam. Like the old phoenix long range aam(F14) ,but with stealth.?.that way we can mount 3 dozens of them on a B52 or B1 bomber and sweep anything off the sky for 300 miles.!!!

    Ohh hell ..what do i know?? I’m just a humble tax paying school bus driver!!!!

    • Dfens

      In a stealth vs. stealth engagement, you are right, nothing is going to happen at long range. The idea is to have better stealth than the enemy, better passive sensors (including eyeballs), and a better information system (Link16, Link22) than the enemy so you get the first look and presumably the first kill. You don’t want to engage the enemy in a classic dogfight because that negates your stealth advantage.

      If it is stealth vs. non-stealth you could have some long range shots. You would be aware of the enemy long before they are aware of you, and you can take them down with long range missiles. The problem with using long range radar guided missiles is that you have to radiate to keep the missiles on track, which negates your stealth. Even if only the missiles radiate to find the target, it still gives the enemy a pretty good idea of where you are.

      • blight_

        Debating if the future is low RCS shape of missile (Have Dash), off-bore capability (found in the AIM-120D) and a LPI seeker..

        There’s a power and volume budget for missiles the more powerful you go and it also is kind of moot if you have a datalink to an aircraft’s radar…

    • Guest

      Go to You Tube and look up MALD, C-130, MCALS.
      You have the correct idea but you are making some key mistakes.
      First off, nobody in their right minds closes to an enemy who has superior numbers, shorter radius back to base and a better performing aircraft as superior total missile count.
      You swing and miss and now you cannot get away from the fight because he can SEE YOU, literally. And the F135 engine on the F-35 JSF is particularly crippled here in that it is a very hot plume which attracts IRST and seeker heads for -miles- greater distance than the previous F100/110 on the F-15/16.
      Second, long range doesn’t mean much if you take forever getting there. The super-long AIM-54 shot 110nm/125mi only hit it’s target because it continued closing and it took almost three minutes to get to the impact point of 71nm.
      In a real war condition, the target will have done any of a dozen different, random or deliberate, things (90`left and extend etc.) to further complicate the intercept geometry and then the missile cannot make up the difference.
      OTOH, if you switch to turbine, not rocket, propulsion, for the same weight of about 300lbs as the AMRAAM, you can now fly almost 500nm. Which means you can put your missiles well out ahead of the ingressing friendly formation and when they acquires the target, using network linked optical seekers, they are only about 10-15nm ahead of the enemy.
      What is more, since they have already covered the midcourse which is where most rocket-motor weapons burn up a lot of energy doing nothing, ‘very fast’, they now have a more stable, 500-600 knot, capability to attack, miss and reattack. The same way wolves would use pack tactics to distract and wear down a moose or elk before moving in for the kill.
      As for why most ‘normal’ fighter pilots don’t want more than AIM-120, the answer is simple. They want the F-35 as job insurance before their F-15/16 fall apart under their feet while believing they can always pay for better missiles later.
      And, so long as they have a given X-level missile system based around (realistic) 2-5nm heat shots and 6-10nm BVR radar weapons, they can always ‘game the system’ with tactics and countermeasures to defeat other pilots as much as weapons.
      As soon as you start going uber-tastic on your weapons system performance, suddenly it’s an accountant’s game of statistics: X many shots fired from Y range = Z kills, due to saturation.
      Figher pilots are like the jock classes they are taken from in high school: athletic and competitive driven towards individual excellence as achievement. But unlike the Glory Daze crowd who never live past their Football Championship, they are college educated in mathematics and physics to the point where they -know- they can be beaten, if the numbers get bad enough. And so they try, via their Union Shop closed society, to control the evolution of their combat environment in the absolute smallest increments possible.
      This is great for peacetime, where it funds large armed forces who are essentially only competing with each other as parade forces and symbols of national pride. But in conflict, where a tiny city-state country like Iraq cannot possibly hope to have enough resources to beat a continental nation-state like the U.S., it inspires ‘cheating’.
      And as we all know, in love as in war, there is no cheating.

  • bart

    Just make a AA missile with enough range that it can be fired from the runway at home base. ;)

  • Big-Dean

    Bring back the Tomcat and the Phoenix missile!

    • ronaldo

      Phoenix never shot down anything. Epic fail.

      • IronV

        You seem to have a fixation with Phoenix, and not a favorable one. Way ahead of its time and never fired in enough numbers operationally to measure its effectiveness either way.

        • Dfens

          They might have worked against Bear bombers, but they were pretty useless against the Libyan fighters in the Gulf of Sidra. They probably splashed some Q’s, but that’s not quite the same, is it?

          • IronV

            Again. Not enough data to make that conclusion. Phoenix tested well and was in any case a dramatic engineering achievement. To describe it as an “Epic Fail” is not just unsupportable but really an insult to the work and innovation that went into it.

          • Dfens

            Ok, yes, I see your point. North Vietnam certainly used radar guided ground to air missiles very effectively against US aircraft in that war, so you’d have to think anything we’d be using now would be far advanced over that.

    • SPL

      Ask the Iraqi AF about their “Iranian Phoenix Experience”…

    • blight_


      Wonder if NASA ever did get its hands on those Phoenix missiles..

      • Dfens

        Damn, I want to know where you buy military surplus items like that? The 4th of July is coming up and like all good idiots I want my final words in life to be, “y’all watch this.”

  • I wonder if it were wise relying on just one missile type and if there should not be a parallel development of another medium to long range missile for the US.

  • citanon

    You guys realize what he just said right:

    The detection and tracking ranges for the F22 and F35s are now so long, even against newer generation threats, that they now need a longer range missile than the AIM-120D to keep up.

    This coupled with Marine Gen Robert Schmidle’s comments on 60 min regarding the abilities of the F-35 vs FIFTH GEN Russian and Chinese fighters should give the F35 haters here something to think about: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/f-35-joint-strike-fig

    These planes are not just and evolutionary step. They are doing something entirely different that has not been publicly disclosed. If Schmidle is right, then they will be worth every penny.

    • displacedjim

      Right. On. Target.

  • William_C1

    The test pilot is right. The AMRAAM was a huge improvement but we can do far more than even the latest AIM-120D.

    Sensor improvements could be made through use of a dual mode seeker (adding IIR in addition to active radar) or an electronically scanned array. Based on DARPA’s T3 program adding a passive anti-radiation capability is another possibility. This would enable a secondary capability to suppress radar guided SAMs on the ground. Useful when you consider the F-35 will almost always be carrying two such missiles internally regardless of what other stores are being carried.

    Propulsion could be improved through either a VFDR (similar to what the MBDA Meteor employs) or an advanced dual-pulse/multi-pulse rocket motor.

    Some of the concepts tested in the Have Dash II program might be worth a second look too.

  • Hialpha

    OKAY! I wish people would stop talking about the AIM-54 like they understand what the hell they are talking about! Sure, 40 years ago when it was conceived it was impressive on paper and in testing, but as already noted, its true combat value was unassessable. Its day is done and so is the Tomcat so let it go!

    Somebody at the top of this forum said something like (I’m not bothering to scroll up for a real quote) “the Super Hornet provides 80% of the fighter capability of the Tomcat.” You know when people say that 86% if all statistics are made up? Yeah, that one was complete, absolute garbage. No kidding, the Super Hornet is slower, and lighter on gas than the Tomcat but that the sensor fusion, precision avionics and weapons systems and high maneuverability of the SH really are a generation ahead of the last Tomcat upgrade. Period. Statements that start with “woulda,” “shoulda,” or “coulda” and end in “Tomcat glory forever” are irrelevant.

    The truth is that the AIM-120 is a very good, reliable missile. But it isn’t the only very good, reliable missile and the newest tech from around the world has evened the playing field. Anyways as far as medium or long range air to air missiles, the Pk’s are always oversold and we buy from the lowest bidder. Besides, as good as the missiles are, the tactics involved aren’t always properly implemented (Mongo pull trigger too soon, OOPS) which means that it doesn’t matter how sh%t-hot your missiles are if you can’t launch them on timeline. Jeez!

    Okay, I’m off my soapbox about that — now on to the article. I don’t think this is a hit on the F-35 just because some test pilots have asked for a better missile. I’m not a huge fan of the F-35, especially for the Navy family, but test guys are in a good place to ask for a better missile because testing that stuff is their job. The guys in no-kidding deployable squadrons don’t typically talk about that stuff because they are training to use the weapons they have not the weapons they want.

    As far as the AIM-120D, it’s no secret that the government is robbing peter to pay paul with it’s acquisition of the F-35. There is a lot more money to be made both in the US and abroad if we can get the thing flying. If we were to get the thing flying without cracking and sell it properly, nobody would remember that an aircraft is only as good as the sensors, weapons and survivability that it can bring to a fight; except, of course, the dudes who fly it. ;-)

    • Tiger

      Good & reliable missile?

  • oblatt2

    The F-35 really gives a shot in the air to all those air-forces with late 60s and 70s fighters. Suddenly they are competitive with teh latest American aircraft.

    While at the same time the F-35 enables all sorts of innovative tactics such as launch on bearing. With such large no escape zones due to poor kinematics the poor F-35 pilot can only watch and sweat. Hope hes not seen as any active or passive seeker lock on cant be out-maneuvered.

    Lockheed’s solution is stay at home – never go near air defenses of any sort.

    • William_C1

      So are all of these late 60s and 70s aircraft just going to magic themselves to a close enough range where they can actually detect the F-35?

      Launch on bearing? So the F-35 pilot would just have to switch his radar back to standby and bank to the right or left, probably not even having to hit the afterburner. Meanwhile his wingmen will be maneuvering to both cover him and keep track of the enemy, and linking that information directly to him so he stills knows where everybody is.

    • citanon

      It’s O.O.D.A. Not just focus on A and forget the OOD.

      • displacedjim

        Forget about it. oblatt and lance are consistantly the least cogent posters on this site.

  • Chuck Mock

    The powers that be killed the F-14—Phoenix program and that missle had 130 mi capability and they were working on expanding its range. Now they have shot themselves in the foot.

  • TonyC.

    The AIM-120 was designed to replace the Sparrow as a fire and forget medium range air to air missile. The idea of a long range air to air missile has been around since the development fo the AIM-54 Phoenix for the F-14A. The problem is size and weight, both of which should be manageable with new technologies. The US military objective of first shot, first kill is the driving factor for longer range weapons. Most engagements will still probably result in more conventional dogfights using Sidewinders and a gun. This is a result of the Rule Of Engagement that normally enters into any combat scenario. The F-22A is the best fit for the one fighter fits all combat envelopes scenario, but it can’t fly from an aircraft carrier. A new long range missile would best help the US Navy and Marine Corps.

    • displacedjim

      X-Rays? Sure, because they are as close to one-shot-kills as any missile has gotten so far. Guns? Nope. Name the last gun kill aganst another fighter. Possibly in LO v. LO engagements in the future guns in Air-to-Air might return to again being something a little more than just a 1000pound dead weight insurance policy against that 1-in-a-1000 oh sh!t moment.

      • TonyC.

        The gun was last used in Viet Nam and the Sidewinder in Operation Desert Storm. The gun is needed when visual confirmation of the enemy aircraft is required under ROE. The pilots all want a gun, it is the best close in weapon when the fighters are head to tail in a traditional dogfight. If there is a war involving a REAL opposing air force (ie: China), all weapons will be needed.

  • NickG

    You guys are unbelievable! Relax let the folks at DOD work this out. The F-35 does have its (many) issues (just like most new A/C) before it. They will get worked out or eventually the program gets killed. Yes, we really could use a longer range missile especially for our legacy fleet. I would not be very worried about what the Russians fabricate as they cannot even put together a real hockey team for their own Olympics. The Chinese are the ones to watch.

  • wtpworrier

    “The latest model, the D-model, can fly Mach 4 with a range of about 180 kilometers or about 97 nautical miles.”____________________________________________________Thats a pretty good ways out. I mean, when you can stand 90 miles out and have the possibility of hitting the target, h-ll…why have jets? Not only that, our “potential” enemy don’t have anything that can out fly it, nobody does as far as that matters…as far as we know.

    • I believe we should have kept the 14 and built them with latest tech, avionics, and F-119s engines that work. Keep the F/A-18 because the dam thing works!!! Ordnance: The range is too dam short and too dam slow. New more compact air-to-air missile with multi-tri optics and radar, the ability to track with radar and infa red at the same time and a range of 150+. Finally, send the 20mm valcan cannon down to Arizona to Dillon and let them rebuild them like the M134 Gatling Gun. And give the 20s a bigger ammo can. _finished, but what do I know. I used to shoot artillery.

      • Dfens

        F airplanes. I say we make a bunch of swords and go all 300 on their ass…

  • I think everyone is missing the real problem here. We need a propulsion technology that will add range without increasing the size of the missile. A major problem with the AIM-54 was its size. An F-14 could only carry 6. Now, if bombers are your only target that might be good, but we must expect that F-22s are likely to be fighting out numbered by more than 6 to one. At the start of the conflict, the enemy will control when and where he will mass. That means if we can double the range of an AIM-120 with a new motor, we could also make new missiles half the size with nearly the range of the missile with the older motor. That would give the F-22 two regular size (with double the range motors), and eight smaller missiles with the range of the previous AIM-120 for a total of 10 missiles. Long range fights are good, but they still will be rare. And they are called missiles and not hittles for a reason, despite what the Russians think of their new R-77M. When used correctly, end game maneuvers will always be capable of defeating a missile at high speed. Having more missiles per plane is really much more important. It allows fewer planes (which is the problem with the F-22) to be more productive per sortie.

    • displacedjim

      I’m not sure why you think we’ll be fighting at more than 6-to-1 odds. Of course, 6-to-1 against F-22s basically just means each F-22 kills several bandits with the rest running for home.

      • Because the enemy will choose when and where to fight, and will have the advantage of massing where we aren’t. That sort of thing happened in war. Also, since countries like China are building more airplanes than we are. If you read what I posted, you would understand that missiles “miss”. Pks are never 100%. It is unlikely that the AIM-120 would ever get a Pk above 80% against a near peer enemy. Don’t assume the enemy will just run home either. Su-30MKI/J-11 can get targeting data on stealth aircraft from VLF radars that would allow them to find a general area of stealth planes. These radars would have to be jammed/destroyed for stealth aircraft to succeed. The Chinese at least are disciplined enough to send fighters to overwhelm F-22s even after some of thier aircraft are destoryed.

        • displacedjim

          And it’s the single biggest point about our 5th-gen a/c that *we* will have the situational awareness advantage and *we* will choose the fight. No, China is not building more aircraft than we are, and certainly not in the categories that make a real different beyond their numbers, i.e., our legacy 4th-gen fighters that we have far more of than they do, and 5th-gen that we are actually using while they won’t have anything resembling them in service for another decade. Thanks, I’m aware of missile Pk. I suggest you’re dreaming that their J-11 can get “targeting” data on our LO a/c from any ground-based radars regardless of operating frequency, and once again you appear to be talking about some scenario where we are fighting them over/near mainland China. I have a hard time agreeing that is particularly likely. “Overwhelm” our F-22? When our F-22 are out of ammo they’ll leave, and there won’t be anything the PLAAF can do to stop them.

        • displacedjim

          Your concern seems to me to only be viable in about the worst-case scenario out of all the possible conflicts world-wide: Us trying to drive downtown over China, but without us properly peeling their air defense onion first. My answer to that would be the answer the doctor gave me when I told him it hurts when I twist my spine like this–“Then don’t do that.”

  • Guest


    Nope, but you’re close.
    First off, the reason Miss-iles live down to their name is three fold:

    1. They emphasize the wrong part of the envelope.
    Getting across the midcourse before the threat flies out of envelope or disappears from your scope is all well and good but it puts a HUGE amount of mass into go-quicker rather than farther. And I mean seriously farther. As in 300-500nm. Which a six foot long, 300lb, turbine powered MALD can do.
    2. Repass For The Win.
    When they get to endgame, AAM/SAM are either going too fast or too slow to be optimized to the one dice throw chance they get to turn harder on those tiny wings and bodylift. Which is silly because missiles are really nothing more than kamikaze wingmen and if they have flown X many miles in Y many seconds for optimum terminal energy maneuver, the threat merely needs to avoid that intersection of altitude, impulse seconds and speed to beat them. Whereas, if they are already out front flying lead sweep like hounds before the hunters at little more than 500 knots, then where they are encountered becomes more random and what the threat does to avoid them isn’t as effective because they can have ‘rechargeable’ energy factors (as turbine engines), just like it does.
    3. Threats and counters are cheaper.
    Time is again a primary factor in choosing whether you look-shoot-look on single missile engagements. Or shift to shoot-shoot-look on salvos. In the former case, a long range shot which missiles must be repeated because you cannot afford to double up on salvo attrition if you are only carrying a few and long times of flight equate to lots of threat closure on your position if not commitment to MCG to your own shot. But at the same time, close-in engagements, whether you double down or not, make the chance of counter shot or active defense from the moment of launch (rather than the moment the MAWS/MLDS detects the inbound when it is 5-10nm out) much higher.
    Because modern QWIP IRST can see motor ignition from a high energy propellant at 80km or more. Now, for the same SSPK, you are shooting 2 missiles, minimum, anyway. Though they might miss the lighting of an F112 type turbine with an obstructive flow diffuser.
    CUDA is essentiallly AAAM without the booster as what you described- a half-AMRAAM length mini-BVR shot that can be loaded 2 per station on the JSF door launchers.
    It is radar guided which means it may or may not work well against RFLO technologies developed in the next 20 years.
    And it is not invulnerable to the next ‘coming soon’ solutions which will be cheap Missileer UCAVs that act like maximum-ELO trucks for sensor cuing platforms (L/S-Band AESA on Blk.40 GHawk will look down on most stealth threaths upper fuselage decks where they are ‘hotside’ easier to see) that are much further back.
    Kill a 10 million dollar UCAV loaded up with 10X.5 million dollar AAMs and you’ve only lost 15 million. Whoopy. Buy 6 more and you will equal the cost of a single F-35.
    Nor will the missile do well in the dawn of the SSL age as 100KW, weaponized, slab slasers migrate from ground to airborne use.
    Indeed, as ground threats move towards 1MW by 2025 and relay (via aerostat lofted prismatic mirrors, good to 60km+) by 2035, the need for cheap, invisible, missiles to essentially operate _independently_ (without threat terrain overflight by parent aircraft) in enemy battlespaces will become a driving factor in whether air superiority is achieved or air defenses simply ‘endured’ as a function of mass launch of aeroballistics as hypersonic cruise weapons (ARRMD/FastHawk/RATTLRS).
    IMO, subsonic,<500nm, manned, airpower is as dead as the dinosaurs on the other side of the world from the KT impact. We just haven't seen the tech proliferation catch up with leading shock wave of change.

    • William_C1

      These Missileer type UCAVs don’t yet exist outside of possible black projects. We are still many years away from true “smart” autonomous capability for UCAVs which when dealing with an EW intensive environment will be necessary for such platforms to have the same degree of utility as manned aircraft. Keeping such UCAVs cheap will be rather difficult. The Predator is very simple in comparison. While such a Global Hawk could serve as a new generation of AWACS it is still going to be somewhat vulnerable to large long-range AAMs. It will be therefore be necessary for some stealthy UCAVs to have radar systems of their own, or to be supported by manned aircraft (6th generation fighters) to provide guidance.

      When lasers reach such a point (which won’t be for some time) they will revolutionize the battlefield but we aren’t there yet. On future missile designs it will become necessary to minimize radar, IR, and other categories of signature to increase the difficulty of detecting and targeting them. Yet they have to be cheap enough to afford in large numbers as lasers may still down a significant % of them. That will also be quite a challenge.

      Continued research into plasma shielding concepts should be a priority to protect both manned and unmanned aircraft from directed energy weaponry. On manned aircraft it will also be necessary to shield the aircrew from being blinded visually by laser systems, which means they would be flying entirely by the aircraft’s sensors in such an environment with no “direct” view out the cockpit.

      Considering how expensive all of this will be I’m starting to think part of the American political spectrum would rather just surrender the technological lead to the countries (likely China) who invest heavily in directed energy weaponry.

      • Guest

        Disagree. Missileer UCAVs are little more than an autopilot, GPS and MAWS system linked together. The human does all the route planning as a function of where threat AD is an what the nearest baselanes are.

        The robot simply goes round and round, like any V-1 buzzbomb having a bad hair day.

        When trade emerges, you send a datalink squirt to the aircraft using the same AESA technology as your radar (F-22 has passed 170 megabyte radar maps using it’s APG-77 as a ‘microwave modem’, in 4 seconds) which is to say the difference between there-and-back-again on a sensor pulse vs. one way trip for the commo traffic.

        While modern fighter combat is entirely dependent on datalinks anyway (a fighter section could not survive without offboard ISR links, even with pilots), the reality remains that the aircraft which has the least emissions and the least performance requirements to complete an aggressive intercept, can be both designed (flying wing = simplest structural pathways and best bowtie signature values) and employed (off to the side, waiting for a threat launch) in the manner least likely to attract attention.

        Sensorization is not the problem many assume it to be either. The weapons of the S-300/400/500 classes which have the reach to nail a standoff HALE platform also run about 60-100 million dollars per battery.

        Nail these with a combination of SatRecce overhead, SOF and expendable targeting drones like the Mirach series and you don’t have a cause for concern because the whole point of the UCAV-forward strategy is to hit the shooter early in his intercept (gear in well, preferably) so that even if he does get an LRAAM off at your GHawk AWACS, it doesn’t have midcourse data.

        Put another way: If you can risk your 40 million dollar RQ-4 to in-country recce with onboard radars and optics blazing away at short range, a standoff AEW&C mission is nothing.

        Northrop Grumman just completed lab testing of the 108KW Gamma Firestrike ‘Slab’ laser and for a 5-10km weaponization threshold, it’s roughly the size of an industrial microwave oven and only weighs 500lbs. Operational versions will see use no later than 2020, even if we don’t productionize the technology, because the solid state laser is based on civilian telecoms tech which means it cannot be proliferation-contained.

        Comparatively, the F-35 is going to be an albatross draped around the U.S. DODs neck until 2060, by which time 1MW lasers will be common place and aerostat tethered relay mirrors will take the beam up out of the pollutant saturated, low altitude, air to high altitude where they will reach 60-100km downrange.

        At which point, having UCAVs will be the difference between having airpower and having WWI level, ‘over the top’, attrition among aircrews like they were infantry facing machine guns for the first time.

        BVR as a manned jet firing all of two missiles while carrying a pair of 12nm standoff bombs almost to overflight of the target is as dead a concept as the dinosaurs, the day after KT. The pilot community just don’t know it yet.

        • William_C1

          For clarification are we talking about UCAVs hauling standoff air-to-ground weapons like the JSOW or JASSM or are we talking about air-to-air missiles? For air-to-air combat even active radar missiles require mid-course guidance updates. The Global Hawk would still be vulnerable to very long range air-to-air missiles and strategic SAMs. While those systems are very expensive, a Global Hawk with a very powerful state-of-the-art AESA radar won’t be cheap either. Just for the sake of insurance I think it would be a good some of those stealthy UCAVs to have their own radar arrays.

          Autonomous air-superiority missions will be possible before a lot of other tasks, but in my opinion such missions will be very unlikely outside of a total war scenario between superpowers. In a more limited conflict the possibility of downing a civilian or allied aircraft will make a lot of people hesitant to use UCAVs in such a manner. The use of manned “6th generation” fighters as controllers may be useful here.

          The challenge in destroying batteries of long-ranged SAMs like the S-400 is that they will typically be protected by a lot of shorter ranged systems, many of which are designed to engage cruise missiles and even smaller targets down to the size of HARM missiles. The introduction of laser air defense systems only makes the job that much more difficult.

          UCAVs are still going to be vulnerable to such direct energy weapons, although on the positive is that there is no risk of a pilot being blinded. I’m guessing by this time our own aircraft will be capable of carrying their own laser systems for active defense against enemy missiles and various uses against other targets. Yet having each individual UCAV carry such a system certainly wouldn’t be affordable.

          So how do we deal with an integrated air defense system featuring some high-powered lasers? Use stealth to get as close as possible and then attempt to overwhelm with numbers? I don’t see many other options. Do you think this is to be done at very low or high altitude?

          We’ve operated far greater numbers of complicated (for their time) aircraft than 2,400 or so F-35s. There is no reason this should be an albatross around our neck. The Russians and Chinese know about what the future could contain yet they aren’t hesitating from building their own 5th generation fighters. There is no reason we should halt our own programs based on what may or may not occur decades from now.

          Like I said we aren’t yet to that point where BVR combat is redefined. Nor will we be there for many years yet. Shorter ranged weapons are naturally cheaper than longer ranged systems like the JASSM or the next generation of supersonic or hypersonic cruise missiles. To overwhelm an IADS the use of small and cheap weapons in large numbers may be necessary.

          • Guest


            For clarification are we talking about UCAVs hauling standoff air-to-ground weapons like the JSOW or JASSM or are we talking about air-to-air missiles?

            JASSM and JSOW are very large and expensive and in the JASSM-ER’s case, subject to better launch methods from either a CABS configured C-17 or a groundlaunch/VLS launch ala LRASM-B.
            Particularly given the nature of the F-35s restricted payload (deepXnarrow and very warm), there is nothing that says a UCAV cannot be a truck for manned jets, provided it’s signature is equal to or less than theirs. I would however offer that a quad of 300lb GBU-53/B on a BRU-61 smart rack is a better size/weight fight for an aircraft which is /also/ an A2A missile truck.

            For air-to-air combat even active radar missiles require mid-course guidance updates.

            The A-12 Avenger would have been qualified with the AIM-152 AAAM and that combination would have required an F-14 with a standoff of at least 50nm (and a separate illuminator pod) to be useful because the APQ-183 radar was Ka Band and thus useless on any target much outside 15nm.
            If Shooter:Illuminator can work for the A-12/F-14D, it can work for UCLASS/F/A-18F (or F/A-XX or MQ-4C).
            The key here is that you want to have the ability to shoot from waaaaaay over here as soon as your SOF team or your COMINT wireup or your UGS or your primary surveillance radar picks up the threat in the baselane. The implication being (for the A-12) that you could loft a weapon while ingressing at low level, still some 20-30nm out or more.
            Which means that the Fighter doesn’t run into hard floor issues with shooting into ingressing aircraft traffic lanes (F-15C in Desert Storm had a floor of 2,000ft) while ‘hovering’ at the edge of the SAM engagement envelope. This is particularly a problem with mechanical arrays like the AWG-9 and APG-63V but it also applies to the AESA generation simply because the array is tilted up to prevent a hogs nose effect with very little gimballing possible on the American radars.
            For a LO aicraft already at altitude and well within the SAM envelope, this doesn’t matter as much, provided the standoff platform is well and truly ‘out there’, with enough ERPs to paint the aircraft.

            The Global Hawk would still be vulnerable to very long range air-to-air missiles and strategic SAMs.

            Global Hawk costs on third the price of an F-35.
            And you begin your air campaign, as indeed we did in 2003, with a 60-90 day period of killing the enemy radars and semi-mobile SAMs, using cheapo UAVs that literally fly parallel to roads, and look under bridges, optically.

            While those systems are very expensive, a Global Hawk with a very powerful state-of-the-art AESA radar won’t be cheap either.

            GHawk on it’s own is about 40. If you add in all the goodies of Mission Equipment Package and control station, it comes up to about 100 million.
            The principle difference is that the MP-RTIP on the Blk.40 is a veritable bill board sized array and has ENORMOUS power off either side (cooling dependant). It is X-Band but could be lowered to C/S and maybe even L-band where range response is better (though clutter degradation is worse).
            Which means that, so long as the threat has to come up to play, because we are cruising and dropping bombs from 40K, the RTIP radar will see them, from upwards of 200nm away. Even LO threats of the F-117 generation.

            Just for the sake of insurance I think it would be a good some of those stealthy UCAVs to have their own radar arrays.

            The A-45 was originally to have a version of the TESAR/MESAR system on the RQ-4. Then they went to ‘XTRA’ as a conformal array (smart skin stuff). I frankly don’t believe that this is a good idea for the simple reason of cost. I would be interested in a pack-hunting option in which the weapons bay could be fitted with a palletized system looking through a special door.
            That said, my first thought when you mentioned this was not RF at all but an 800mm objective lens range tracking camera with a hyperspectral doped 1028X1028 array optical system.
            Again, because if you are flying in the 40-60K range, the weather is not going to be as important an issue and if you have the signature capabilities to penetrate the SAM belts, you also gain the side-look ability to catch plume tracks exiting the baselanes from a considerable distance.

            Autonomous air-superiority missions will be possible before a lot of other tasks, but in my opinion such missions will be very unlikely outside of a total war scenario between superpowers.

          • Guest

            Which is why they should be automated.
            Look, in Vietnam we faced three principle shortcomings which prevented us from flatly trouncing the second rate VPAF:
            1. ROE
            You can’t bomb Kep except the third friday of May in a leap year. You can’t shoot BVR because we’ve lost 5 jets and an Australian Gunboat compared to the hundreds which will fall to MiGs, either directly or because supporting missions like Weasels and SOJAM were driven offstation.
            2. Lack of Equipment.
            When the first QRC pods became available, they were reserved for the bombers and that made TARCAPing a very risk business. Even once the pods started to become a little less thin on the ground, we had issues of wiring compatibility vs. coverage (spatial and band) wherein an F-4 which was already on the edge of safe gas suddenly had to give up one of it’s 370 gallong wing tanks because the ALQ-71/87/101 wouldn’t go anywhere else. Half the reason for carrying AIM-4 rails was because they gave correct voltage power for a jammer pod.
            Beyond this we have issues with the Dogfight radar mode constantly dumping Sparrows and Sparrows with poor to non-existent maintenance being flown for a dozen missions like they were wooden rounds. Vs. Sidewinders that couldn’t be fired at all, over 2G and had no envelope prediction on jets which were often either inside their 2,000ft fuze Rmin or able to exit their 4-6,000ft RMax when they were fired (AIM-7 SSPK of .08 is at least half related to the issues with Sidewinder being near equally worthless at .15).
            3. Lack Of Coverage/Cross Roling.
            A2A is a mission that is flow 70%. Maneuvered 25%. And prosecuted 5%. And you really don’t know which or when which means you had better have an excess rather than a shortfall of total sorties or you will find yourself robbing your support missions to get your BOTOTs covered and that’s just beggin’ for trouble as the VPAF often showed amazing insight and fortitude in pressing through BARCAPs HAVCAPs to prosecute EB-66/EKA-3, even when they were covered.
            Of course the opposite of this is not an F-16 or 35 with a pair of AMRAAM aboard because then you have the B-17 bomber turret defense. You fight the mission by the profile you fly. And for OCA, that means you don’t lug bombs. You stay fast and clean. And you have people in the slots who know what they are doing because they are trained for this, the most difficult of the mission arts.
            You _do not_ suddenly become a fighter when a MiG sweeps across your nose, chasing some other poor, bombed up, bleepard.
            This is particularly true with the advent of working BVR/ARH for both sides in that you can end up with a mission kill, just dumping weapons and gas to get enough smash on the jet to defeat an inbound threat fired from 10-15nm out.
            All of which together is why we bought 750 F-15s and 2,000 F-16s and the latter ‘Boyd’s Baby’ as a super dogfighter extraordinaire, never scored a single A2A kill in 1991. Even though it did drop a lot of bombs.
            But those days are passing.
            First, because the threat is changing. Moving towards LO and Lasers and Hunting Weapons of it’s own.
            Second, because the nature of the mission is not the same. In Rolling Thunder, it could take 12 bombs on a MER and two TERs to hit in the same hundred block as the target.
            In Allied Force, a single plane could hit -two- targets with GBU-10/24, if it had the gas and the expendables to survive the attempt.
            In 2003, it was JDAM and the ability to hit two targets simultaneously.
            And today, it is the ability, with AASM and winged SDB/JDAM-ER, to nail arrays of DMPIs without having to cross the 50nm standoff point.
            The farther stood off from the target you are, the more the threat _has to_ come out to meet and greet you before you hit your BRL. Or they are just suckin’ wind on being there at all.

            Early commit means a long BVR phase with little likelihood of cluttered or clumped up targets and an easy EID/EOID deconflict because everybody is following the flow of traffic rather than coming off target every which way and often moving against it.
            Which is where you have to think about whether you want to invest in the spear or the carrier or a mix of the two and if so, in what admixture for a mission which is again, flown 70% of the time without trade, just as life insurance.

            In a more limited conflict the possibility of downing a civilian or allied aircraft will make a lot of people hesitant to use UCAVs in such a manner. The use of manned “6th generation” fighters as controllers may be useful here.

          • Guest

            Doubt it sir.

            If someone is flying airliners in a declared conflict zone then they have passed the stupid threshold for adding a little bleach to the gene pool. If you fire a 200nm ranged weapon in X airspace, there is no reason (with today’s advanced strapdown inertial units and microminiaturized, hardened, GPS) not to have a range safe Y-limiter option which keeps the war in the ring.

            We learned that lesson with HARM back in 1999 and Blk.VI with the new, non-STARM, 1760 interface and the autopilot (as AARGM) basically has turned that weapon into a powered, hypervelocity, JDAM. Due to inertial errors, you may not hit the radar if it dummyloads soon enough and erects a decoy screen. But you will certainly be able to hit an empty safe zone (lake, ravine, etc.) nearby.

    • Greg

      I finally ran across this discussion thread and found your comments insightful. I’d be interested in your comments or criticisms of the following related concept. http://www.texasaircraftdesign.com/html/new_air-t

      • Guest


        Can'[t see a thing beyond the Black X box.

        • Kostas

          It is a proposal about converting a C-17 (yes, the cargo aircraft) to a fighter by incorporating highly powerful radars, hundreds of missiles and decoys and 2 CIWS like the phalanx.

          The problem with such a concept is that the aircraft would have an HO (high observability), zero maneuverability. Even if the develop a CIWS for that airplane, you would have to develop a very cheap command controlled missile ( no need for expensive seekers), with LO characteristics and a big warhead (since it would have minimal electronics that would not be a problem). So you fire a salvo of these missiles against the target, the EW systems would not be able to hide such a huge target, the minimal maneuverability would increase the Pk of the missiles (and would allow for a simple command control missile) while the saturation attack would overcome even a highly effective CIWS system (the cost of the command controlled missiles would be very low).

          So overall I don’t think this C17 is a good idea.

    • Kostas

      Global hawk has a 60000ft ceiling, the same as most modern fighters. Lets suppose that a new UAV AWACS platform would have a ceiling 30000 ft more than a fighter. This would give just a few degrees of angle of radar “downlooking” for a target 100nm away. Do you really think that these few degrees would negate the stealth characteristics of thefighter? I highly doubt so. Please convince me, otherwise your whole proposal would be invalid.

      • Guest

        First, let’s deal with the reality of flights at the lower end of Astronaut territory. Sure, jets can get there. Walt Bjorneby was flying F-102s and F-104s in this part of the envelope in the 1960s.
        But for the majority of aircraft, this is not a useful (combat ceiling = positive climbrate of 1,500ft/min) or even stable (absolute ceiling stabilized climb rate 500ft/min) regime. It’s the artifact of a dipsy doodle or unload-zoom by a skilled pilot with _very careful_ maintenance of throttle control to keep the engine lit.
        For some jets (like the Starfighter and now the F-22) there is a combination effect of so little drag, so much wing area, so much thrust or such an optimized engine effect (T2 reset vs. a core with a very wide thermal band) that the ability to go supersonic feeds the mass flow through the double shock inlets as the principle suck-squeeze part of sustaining the height band. Again, to use Mr. Bjorneby as an example, he has been within snap up limits of the AIM-4 system (with an AIM-26A nuke Falcon) on the Deuce and _snap down_ conditions with enough maneuver authority for a gun shot on the Zipper.
        But these are few and far between performance points that do not reflect the majority of combats or the design points of the fighters mean to face them, 30,000ft and more lower.
        A Rafale and a Typhoon, being designed for NATO’s CentFront (where high altitude = low G would be lethal in the face of the WARPAC GBAD anyway) would not perform well here because they don’t have the fuel to go fast nor the thrust trust as engine core temps to sustain a decent supercruise. A MiG-31 might and a Su-35 or PAK-FA would have to but these jets are all very thin on the ground, outside Russia herself.
        To which I would add a further modifier: Pilot performance. We all know of the F-22 problems with pilot loss of consciousness due to contaminated oxygen or ‘whatever’. My personal belief is that, as you go higher and atmospheric pressure lets off, even in a Raptor where the cockpit differential is higher than most, you start to get tissue saturation effects which essentially burn the body chemistry out of balance as the metabolism goes to peak load on the high aerobic saturations and then the least little bit of stress, it’s nap time.
        The human body reacts in very strange ways to changes in atmospheric pressure and if you are not wearing a full up pressure suit, you are going to suffer them on a random basis.

  • scott

    i agree

  • Rob C.

    I wonder what it would take to make less expensive long-range missile that isn’t going to screw up things further with cost. I’m not technologisti, i do understand the cost and logistics is factor. Phoenix missile, which was last long-range air-to-air missile US had, was resonable but it was big missile with allot needs. Sure it didn’t fire, but isn’t that saying we didn’t get into alot conflicts that called for one? Sadly, i think its going take more money that people are going say is waste to make Extended-Range version of the AIM-120 in service, that maybe new missile with same name as the current one due to politics.

  • internal carriage has its limits. Missiles need solid fuel to make range. F22 and JSF just cant handle the length required. Maybe some day a ramjet can be used to cut the length down.