September 18, 2011:
The U.S. has ordered 437 AMRAAM radar guided air-to-air missiles, to be produced in the next year. Most (234) are the latest version, the AIM-120D. The rest are the older, AIM-120C7, version. Most of these are for foreign customers. Since it entered service two decades ago, over 40 air forces have bought AMRAAM.
AMRAAM entered service in 1992, more than 30 years after the first 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, and 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 over 1.7 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.
AMRAAM 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.