Warplanes: June 11, 2000


The US Air Force is planning a continuing series of upgrades to the AMRAAM missile to keep it competitive with the Russian AA-12 and the new European missile Meteor. The warhead, fuse, and rocket motor are already undergoing improvements. Next year, AMRAAM will get new software allowing it to engage targets within the full range of the launching fighter's radar, about 70 degrees. (AMRAAM is currently limited to about 25 degrees off-boresight.) The second phase of the off-boresight upgrade plan, still unfunded, will allow a fighter to attack a target behind it. (This would require a second fighter, facing the other direction, to detect the target and provide cueing via the Link-16 datalink system.) What everyone is waiting for is a motor replacement. Meteor is ramjet powered for extra range, and the Russians are working on a ramjet-powered version of their AA-12. The US is assumed to want a similar capability, but the US may well "skip the ramjet" and move instead to a new classified propulsion system. The US is considering thrust vectoring to make the missile more maneuverable, but this technology also reduces range, and the Air Force wants more range out of AMRAAM, not less. --Stephen V Cole


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