The U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin have been secretly working on a new very long-range air-to-air missile (VLRAAM). The AIM-260 program known as the Joint Air Tactical Missile (JATM) Program recently popped up on a U.S. Navy awards announcement document in which a program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command was recognized for outstanding logistics in 2017.
The new AIM-260 is being developed by Lockheed Martin to Counter China’s PL-15. The PL-15 can hit U.S. aircraft before they even have a chance to fire back. Flight testing for the AIM-260 is expected in 2021, and operational testing will begin the following year. Joseph Trevithick of The War Zone writes (abridged):
In 2017, the JATM program office hired Lockheed Martin to develop the new air-to-air missile. Otherwise, there are still few details about the design. Genatempo did say that the AIM-260 will not use a ramjet, the European Meteor air-to-air missile does, and will have a similar form factor to the existing AIM-120, but did not explain how it would then be possible then to achieve a significant increase in range, according to Aerospace Daily.
It is possible that advances in rocket motor and warhead technology may be enough to provide a considerable boost in range when combined with a new, streamlined body. For example, Northrop Grumman’s AGM-88G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile-Extended Range (AARGM-ER) leverages similar developments, including a warhead that offers improved lethality in a smaller package, to create space for additional rocket fuel.
Brigadier General Genatempo didn’t offer any specifics about the other “different capabilities” the AIM-260 would have as compared to the AIM-120. A dual-mode seeker that includes radar and an imaging infrared capability could be a very important addition in an age of ever-improving countermeasures. This would give the missile a means of homing in on its target even in the face of electronic warfare jamming during the terminal phase of flight. Similarly, if the missiles optics were get blinded or confused, it could fall back on its radar seeker. An ability to home in on a target’s emissions, such as those from its own radar, could also give the JATM additional flexibility.
The AIM-260 itself will very likely feature advanced two-way data links in order to send and receive new information, allowing for more precise targeting, complete retasking of the missile in flight, and engaging targets based on data from offboard sources. The latter functionality would allow a fighter pilot to engage targets beyond the range the sensors on their own aircraft or fire the missile without having to activate their own radar, increasing the likelihood that enemy forces would detect them. The AIM-120D already has a two-way data link that has some third party targeting capabilities.
But keeping the weapon within the same size constraints of the AMRAAM will be especially important in order to integrate it into existing stealth fighters, such as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which must carry their weapons internally in order to maximize their stealthy characteristics. The F-22 and the non-stealthy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet are slated to be the first aircraft to carry the JATM, which Genatempo said is expected to begin flight testing in 2021 and begin initial operational testing the year afterward.
After that, integration on F-35 variants will occur, according to Air Force Magazine. It seems likely given this timeframe that the missile could find its way onto other Air Force fighter jets, including the services future F-15X Advanced Eagles.
Read more here.
Aviation Week Podcast – The Long Road to AIM-260, the U.S.’s Newest Missile.