Air Weapons: Advanced AMRAAM Attracts Admirers


November 17, 2009: It's been a good year for the new model (AIM-120C-7) of the American AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. Many nations have bought them (Chile got 100, Jordan 85 and Bahrain 25, plus Kuwait, Morocco and Jordan have just put in orders). While the U.S. is supplying Middle Eastern allies with these high end missiles mainly to help contain Iran, Chile merely wants to upgrade its armed forces. There hasn't been a war (between nations) in South America since the 1930s, but the trend is now towards maintaining small, but high tech, forces, for defense, and to back your diplomats when there are disagreements.

AMRAAM entered service in 1992, more than 30 years after the first radar guided air-to-air missile (the AIM-7) entered service. Vietnam 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. While 88 AIM 7s were launched, only 28 percent scored 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, although 77 percent of the 13 launched have hit something. The 340 pound AMRAAM isn't much bigger that the 200 pound, heat seeking, AIM-9 Sidewinder, but has a much longer (70 kilometers versus 18) range. AMRAAMs cost about $1.1 million each.



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