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.

25 Comments on "Lockheed Test Pilot Calls For Longer Range AIM-120"

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

  6. "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.

  7. 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.

  8. Tribulationtime | February 18, 2014 at 3:10 pm |

    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.

  9. 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!!!!

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

  11. Bring back the Tomcat and the Phoenix missile!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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. ;-)

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. "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.

  21. 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.

  22. CJH,

    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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

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