Warplanes: Another New One Bites The Dust


February 28, 2012: The U.S. Air Force, facing declining budgets for the rest of the decade, cancelled its NGM (Next Generation Missile). Formerly the JDRADM (Joint Dual Role Air Dominance Missile), work began on this system nearly a decade ago. NGM would replace both AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and HARM anti-radar missiles. The cost of the NGM project was expected to be about $15 billion. The key advantage of the NGM was the ability of stealthy F-22s and F-35s to carry SDBs (small diameter bombs) and NGMs in their internal bomb bays while going in and destroying enemy air defenses. NGM would also have a longer range than AMRAAM and HARM, making it capable of destroying new, longer range Russian systems (like S-400). The current HARM cannot fit into the bomb bays of the F-22 and F-35.

The AIM-120D AMRAAM entered service in 1992, more than 30 years after the first reliable radar guided air-to-air missile (the AIM-7 Sparrow). AMRAAM was meant to succeed where the AIM-7 didn’t. Vietnam, in the 1960s, provided ample evidence that AIM-7 wasn't really ready for prime time. Too many things could go wrong. Several versions later the AIM-7 got another combat test during the 1991 Gulf War. In combat 88 AIM 7s were launched, with 28 percent scoring a hit. The AIM 9 Sidewinder did worse, with 97 fired and only 12.6 percent making contact. That said, most of these hits could not have been obtained with cannon, especially when the AIM 7 was used against a target that was trying to get away.

AMRAAM was designed to fix all the reliability and ease-of-use problems that cursed the AIM-7. But AMRAAM has only had a few opportunities to be used in combat but over half of those launched have hit something. The 120D version entered service four years ago and has longer range and greater accuracy and resistance to countermeasures. So far, AMRAAMs have spent nearly two million hours hanging from the wings of jet fighters in flight. Some 2,400 AMRAAMs have been fired, mostly in training or testing operations. That’s about a quarter of those produced.

The NGM was to be about the same size and shape as AMRAAM, which weighs 172 kg (335 pounds), is 3.7 meters (12 feet) long, and 178mm (7 inches) in diameter. AMRAAM has a max range of 70 kilometers. These missiles cost about a million dollars each. The missiles are complex mechanical, electronic, and chemical systems and each of them, on average, suffers a component failure every 1,500 hours. NGM would be more expensive (costing 2-3 times more) and, at least initially, be less reliable.

The latest version of the HARM anti-radiation missile, the AGM-88E, entered service last year. This model being replaced, the AGM-88D, uses GPS so that the missile, which normally homes in on radar transmissions, can be used to attack targets by location alone. The AGM-88 moves at high speed (2,200 kilometers an hour or 36 kilometers a minute) to hit targets 100 kilometers away. That's why it's also called HARM (High speed Anti-Radiation Missile). The D version of the AGM-88 costs nearly $100,000 each. The standard version uses more complex sensors which can detect and guide the missile to a wide variety of radar signals. These versions cost about $300,000 each. GPS enables HARM (or the aircraft carrying it) to locate a radar when it is turned on, store the GPS location, then go after the target regardless of whether the ground radar is turned on or off. Over 23,000 AGM-88s, of all types, have been produced in the last three decades.

The new AGM-88E uses a more expensive approach to nailing enemy radars that are turned on briefly and attempt to avoid destruction by quickly turning off power. This missile, also called the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM), was developed jointly by U.S. and Italian firms. The original AGM-88 has been in use since the 1980s. The original 1960s anti-radiation missile (ARM) quickly evolved into the HARM.

The AGM-88E remembers where the radar is when it was on, and carries its own high resolution (millimeter wave) radar to make sure it gets the radar. Finally, the AGM-88E can transmit a picture of the target just before it is hit so the user can be certain of what was taken out.




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