Air Weapons: Turkey Sticks It To Israel Again


September 19, 2014: Turkey has ordered another 145 American AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles along with support equipment in a deal worth $320 million. This order is expected to arrive more quickly than the previous one, which was caught up in a two year delay of AMRAAM deliveries because of problems with the rocket motors. This caused delays in deliveries of some 900 missiles to Taiwan, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Finland, South Korea, Morocco, Chile, Jordan, Kuwait, Singapore, and Turkey. The rocket motor problems also delayed deliveries of the Sparrow missiles, which use a motor. The solution was finding another supplier who could produce rocket motors that worked. That turned out to be Norwegian ammunition manufacturer Nammo which began delivering a hundred motors a month in early 2013. The former supplier, ATK, is still fixing the problem it had, which was the result of changing the formula for the rocket propellant several times to comply with environmental regulations. This led to their rocket motors becoming unreliable. It took over two years to sort all this out. Because of the rocket motor problems and the time it took to find another supplier, it will take more time to catch up on the backlog.

Meanwhile the AMRAAM manufacturer (Raytheon) has had to do some damage control with customers. There are other missiles like AMRAAM out there. Israel has some very nice stuff. So Raytheon added some warranty and financial sweeteners and hoped that none of the impatient customers get into a war while they were waiting for their long delayed AMRAAMs. Turkey was apparently one of the customers that was appeased by all this. Although Israeli arms firms used to have an inside track with Turkey until an Islamic party won control of the government a decade ago and adopted an anti-Israel policy in order to show solidarity with the rest of the Islamic world.

AMRAAM entered service two decades ago as a successor to Sparrow. Until recently there have never been problems with the rocket motors. AMRAAM has been around for a while and undergone several upgrades, without problems appearing in components that are often unchanged for decades. But there have been many upgrades, including a lot of new stuff. Thus, it was always suspected that some of the ingredients of the solid fuel (a slow burning explosive) rocket had changed and chemists scrambled to find out what change did what. That took a lot longer than expected.

AMRAAM entered service in 1992, more than 30 years after the first radar guided air-to-air missile (the AIM-7 Sparrow) appeared. 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 AIM-120D version entered service five years ago, has longer range, greater accuracy, and resistance to countermeasures. So far AMRAAMs have spent nearly 2 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. They are complex mechanical, electronic, and chemical systems and each of them, on average, suffers a component failure every 1,500 hours.


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