The US Navy continues to develop new aircraft weapons for carrier-based aircraft. A few days ago, tests began on a promising anti-radar missile AGM-88G AARGM-ER, developed specifically for naval aviation. So far, we are talking only about the first export flights, but in a few years the missile will go into service – and can become a real threat to a potential enemy.
The first flight
According to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), tests of the AGM-88G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range began on June 1 at Patuxent River (Maryland). The first carrier of the experimental missile was the F / A-18E carrier-based fighter from the 23rd test squadron (VX-23).
The aircraft with a payload in the form of two suspended tanks, a pair of air-to-air missiles and one AGM-88G prototype took off, performed a number of maneuvers and landed. During such a flight, information was collected on the arising loads and the reaction of the rocket to them.
Command praised this flight as it puts an end to the main part of the design work and kicks off flight tests. The information collected will be taken into account in the further refinement of the rocket, which will soon enter full-fledged flight tests. Testing and fine-tuning will take the next few years. According to current plans, the AGM-88G will go into production and will reach initial operational readiness in 2023.
The current rocket AGM-88G AARGM-ER is another representative of a fairly old family, dating back to the AGM-88 HARM product. At the same time, it is being developed on the basis of the later AGM-88E AARGM and is maximally unified with it. In both cases, we are talking about a major restructuring of the original design, which appeared in the eighties.
Rocket AGM-88E, base for future modification “G”. Photo Wikimedia Commons
Recall that the AGM-88E product has been developed since 2005 by order of the Italian and US Defense Ministries. The project was done by Orbital ATK and Northrop Grumman. In 2012-13. two customers received the first batches of serial missiles and began their deployment in the army. In 2019, another order appeared – the missiles were acquired by Germany.
In 2016, the US Navy funded the start of work on a new modification of the anti-radar missile. The AGM-88G AARGM-ER product was supposed to repeat as much as possible the existing AGM-88E, but have improved flight performance, primarily the range. The preliminary designs competition ended with the victory of Orbital ATK. In January 2018, she received a corresponding contract.
The main customer for the AARGM-ER program is the naval forces, wishing to re-equip carrier-based aircraft. Later, the US Air Force joined the program. They are interested in receiving AGM-88Gs for their F-35A fighters. However, the leading role remains with the fleet, and the Air Force actually participates only formally.
Despite the high degree of unification with the AGM-88E, the new AGM-88G has a different layout and equipment. The extended-range missile is made in a cylindrical body with an increased diameter (290 mm versus 254 mm for its predecessors). On the outer surface there is a pair of lateral gargrottes; only the tail rudders remained of the planes. The layout has been slightly redesigned: the head compartment accommodates the homing head, the warhead is placed behind it, and all other volumes are occupied by the engine. Steering gears are arranged around the nozzle apparatus.
The AARGM-ER retains the AARGM seeker, but the placement of the instruments has been changed to accommodate the wider body. There are satellite and inertial navigation devices, an autopilot, as well as a radar seeker with passive and active modes. The search for a target is carried out by its radio signals; in the final phase of the flight, active radar is switched on for more accurate destruction. The seeker is protected from interference and remains operational when the tracked signal is lost.
The main features of the AARGM-ER missile. Graphics from NAVAIR / navair.navy.mil
Onboard equipment is capable of exchanging data with the carrier, up to the moment it hits the target. In particular, it allows the aircraft to be informed of an imminent successful defeat – or miss.
A new modular warhead has been proposed for the AGM-88G, the exact parameters of which have not yet been announced. In the customer’s requirements, there was a multi-mode fuse, providing detonation when a direct hit on a target or when passing close to it.
About half the length of the hull is occupied by a new solid-propellant engine. According to open data, it provides an increase in flight speed in comparison with the AGM-88E (maximum speed – 2M) and a two-fold increase in the range – up to 300 km.
AARGM-ER must be compatible with different media. The Navy plans to use it on F / A-18E / F fighters and on EA-18G “electronic warfare” aircraft. Also, the new missile will be included in the ammunition load of land and deck modifications of the F-35 fighter. In this case, the possibility of transportation and launch from internal cargo compartments is provided. One plane can carry up to 2-4 missiles.
In the recent past, Northrop Grumman has exhibited a ground-based launcher for the AGM-88E / G in the form of a standard shipping container. As far as is known, such a project has not yet been developed.
Long arm of aviation
While the AGM-88G is in the early stages of testing, the appearance of such a weapon in the army is expected only in a few years. Apparently, all the necessary work will be completed on time. This is facilitated by the widespread use of ready-made components that no longer need to be worked out.
A prototype AGM-88G in the cargo bay of an F-35 fighter. Photo Orbital ATK / Northrop Grumman
In the future, along with a promising missile, the Navy and, probably, the US Air Force will receive some new strike capabilities. The Navy is again waiting for an effective means capable of aiming at the indicated emitting targets or independently looking for them. Some of the features and advantages of the new missile pose a danger to third countries and may become a reason for taking certain measures.
An important advantage of the AGM-88G is the function of maintaining the coordinates of the detected target and the work of the ARGSN in the final flight segment, which increase the likelihood of a successful solution to the combat mission. Also, the product can transmit data about the attacked target and the results of the attack. Thus, the rocket turns out to be both a means of destruction and a reconnaissance. According to its data, it is possible to clarify the picture of the battlefield and the location of the enemy’s emitting objects.
The new engine, which will dramatically improve performance, should be a major cause for concern. AGM-88G will be able to fly 300 km, which will allow the launch lines to move away from enemy positions. As a result, the enemy will have to use more long-range air defense systems in order to timely repel an attack, capable of spotting, attacking and hitting the carrier aircraft in time. Otherwise, anti-aircraft systems will have to deal with a more complex target in the form of a missile.
In general, the promising AGM-88G AARGM-ER anti-radar missile will become a convenient and effective aircraft weapon. It combines the best modern developments in radar seeker and engines, which gives a favorable combination of flight and combat characteristics.
AGM-88G is created in the interests of the US Navy. Deck-based fighter-bombers and electronic warfare aircraft will be able to use it to destroy surface or coastal targets – ship and land radars for various purposes, incl. from the air defense systems. To defend against such weapons, likely adversaries of the United States need to take certain measures. In general, they repeat the already known methods of countering anti-radar missiles, but they need to be developed taking into account the characteristic features of the AARGM-ER.
To effectively combat carrier aircraft and missiles of the AGM-88 family, a developed and echeloned air defense system is needed, capable of detecting targets at distances of hundreds of kilometers and hitting them at distances of at least 200-300 km, and, if necessary, “completing” at medium or short ranges. For example, Russia has similar systems for the ground forces and the navy. They should be developed and strengthened by the country’s air defense as a whole – and then the AGM-88G missile will lose its advantages by the time it starts to operate.