Air Weapons: May 26, 2004

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Having languished throughout the '90s, the U.S. air-to-air missile (AAM) community is getting back into the development game because of a new-generation of Russian and Chinese missile exports, and various advances made by Israeli missile designers. After the end of the Cold Warm in the early '90s, and the collapse of Russian defense R&D, there was little urgency to develop new U.S. AAMs and defense planners opted for modest upgrades. Today, Russian engineers are working with Chinese defense manufacturers to build missiles that should have better performance than early models of the U.S.'s medium-range AMRAAM. The Chinese PL-12 is stated to have a maximum range of 70-80 kilometers with a peak speed of Mach 4 (over a kilometer a second). 

In response, the U.S. Air Force plans to upgrade AMRAAM so that it will deliver around 50 percent more range (for a total range between 75 and 105 kilometers), have increased navigational accuracy, and incorporate a two-way data link. The two-way data link will allow the missile to pass along target data from its radar seeker to the launching aircraft once it goes active in the final engagement phase. This  AMRAAM-D will be first used by the Navy in 2008 for its F-18 E/F aircraft. The "D" missile is 12 feet long, approximately 7 inches in diameter, weighs in at 365 pounds, and has a 45 pound warhead. 

Planners are also studying the incorporation of a ramjet motor into a next-generation missile for use both in air-to-air and anti-radar applications, as well as enhancing maneuverability in a future design. A ramjet would provide higher sustained speed and greater distance when compared to the existing AMRAAM. For medium and short-range missiles, designers would like to get rid of the external control fins which add weight and drag and looking at an arrangement of being able to directly bleed-off propellant energy from the back nozzle with a series of six valves. Such an arrangement would allow for an "over-the-shoulder" launch firing the missile forward, then having it rapidly turn 180 degrees to attack a trailing attacker. Doug Mohney.

 


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