USAF successful fire Modular Advanced Missile to counter Russiαn R-37M and Chinese PL-15
Anew program appears to have been added to the relative flurry of activity in the field of next-generation air-to-air missiles, or AAMs, for the U.S. military. While very little is known about the Modular Advanced Missile, reference to which first appeared in a recent Air Force budget document, we now know that the weαpσn is an AAM and that there are plans to test-fire it from a fighter jet. The Modular Advanced Missile joins several other developmental AAM programs, most of which stress long-range capability, although at this stage we have no idea what range category this new weαpσn will fit into.
Overall, being able to equip a new AAM with different seekers, wαrhead or no wαrhead (or perhaps different types of wαrheads), and different motor sections to fit different applications would be something akin to a ‘holy grail’ of air-to-air missile technology and would drastically improve upgradability and adaptability. The result would essentially offer a wider menu of AAMs for different types of engagements and platforms, but with common components that would help drive down costs and reduce logistics demands.
For now, however, we are essentially left with further confirmation that the Air Force is looking seriously at overhauling its current AAM inventory, dominated by the AMRAAM, of which increasingly long-range and more capable versions are being tested, as well as the short-range AIM-9 Sidewinder family. The latter includes the latest AIM-9X, a weαpσn that also appears to be heading towαrd being an intermediate-range missile.
Beyond these weαpσns, we know that the U.S. military and industry are working on at least one other all-new design, namely the Lockheed Martin AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile, or JATM, which could begin to be fielded on Air Force and Navy aircraft before the end of this year, although it will be likely some time before it’s declared fully operational.
In what’s become a common theme in these programs, the JATM is expected to hit targets at a greater distance than the AIM-120, helping at least match the performance of the latest Chinese and Russiαn very long-range air-to-air missiles. With extensive testing already undertaken for JATM, this would seem a less likely candidate for RDT&E work in FY23, however.
All these are almost certainly optimized for the kind of high-end aerial combat that would be expected if the United States and its allies were ever to go to wαr with China or Russiα. The fact that they prioritize longer-range capabilities not only to wanting to get the most out of more capable new fighter radars and networking capabilities, but also the need to gain an advantage over potential threat weαpσns like the Chinese PL-15 and the Russiαn R-37M.
Last year, the Air Force again referred to the fact it’s working on a new very long-range air-to-air missile, with the F-15EX fighter jet earmarked as the most likely candidate to carry it. The service made reference to an unnamed “outsize … air-to-air” weαpσn, while the F-15EX was described as “an outsized weαpσns truck.” Potentially, the Modular Advanced Missile could be this weαpσn, too.