Air Defense: February 1, 2005


Washington DC area commuters driving down Barton Parkway in Potomac, Maryland, couldnt help but notice what looked like a box like missile launcher on the grounds of the old Naval Surface Warfare Center. The launcher did not look like anything familiar. It was smaller than the four missile Patriot container, and appeared to be holding six, smaller, missiles. It turned out that NORAD (the North American Air Defense Command), was in charge of the launcher, and was not saying anything. However, a little research revealed that the mystery launcher was the surface-to-air version of the U.S. air-to-air AMRAAM missile. First developed by Norway, the system has been adopted by several other countries (including Spain and Kuwait). The U.S. Marines are developing their own version, called CLAWS. This system will have AMRAAMs fired from a launcher mounted on a hummer. The box launcher seen outside DC is from the Norwegian system (called NASAMS). The ground launched AMRAAM has a range of about twenty kilometers, and can hit targets as high as 13,000 feet. NASAMS was developed so that it could easily work with different search radars. The 350 pound AMRAAM SAM costs more (about $600,000 each) compared to the air-to-air version (about $380,000), but is basically the same missile. The twelve foot long AMRAAM has its own radar, for ensuring a hit once it has been guided to the vicinity of the target. The missile has a fifty pound warhead, and can take down just about anything that flies, including wide-body commercial transports. The AMRAAMs outside DC are apparently for defense against suicidal pilots, or any unauthorized aircraft in the area that refuse to leave restricted air space. 




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