US Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet completes flight with AARGM-ER missile

The U.S. Navy has completed an advanced anti-radiation guided missile-extended range (AARGM-ER) captive carry flight on an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Naval Technology reports. The flight test was conducted with a separation test vehicle (STV) at Patuxent River Air Station in Maryland. This was part of the US Navy’s preparations for the first live-fire test later in 2021.

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US Navy FA 18 Super Hornet completes flight with AARGM ER missile

An F/A-18 flies with an AARGM-ER during a captive carry flight test at Patuxent River Air Station in Maryland. (Picture source: U.S. Navy)

During the test, the F/A-18 Super Hornet conducted a set of aerial maneuvers to examine AARGM-ER’s compatibility with the F/A-18 Super Hornet. According to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the latest trial marked the first time the AARGM-ER weapon demonstrated it could communicate with the F/A-18 E/F aircraft.

AARGM-ER is leveraging the AARGM programme, which is in full-rate production currently, along with the new rocket motor and warhead to provide advanced capability to detect and engage long-range adversary air defense systems.

The AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) is a tactical, air-to-surface anti-radiation missile designed to home in on electronic transmissions coming from surface-to-air radar systems. It was originally developed by Texas Instruments as a replacement for the AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-78 Standard ARM system. Production was later taken over by Raytheon Corporation when it purchased the defense production business of Texas Instruments.

The AGM-88 can detect, attack and destroy a radar antenna or transmitter with minimal aircrew input. The proportional guidance system that homes in on enemy radar emissions has a fixed antenna and seeker head in the missile's nose. A smokeless, solid-propellant, booster-sustainer rocket motor propels the missile at speeds over Mach 2.0. The HARM missile was a program led by the U.S. Navy, and it was first carried by the A-6E, A-7, and F/A-18A/B aircraft, and then it equipped the EA-6B aircraft. RDT&E for use on the F-14 aircraft was begun, but not completed. The U.S. Air Force put the HARM onto the F-4G Wild Weasel aircraft, and later on specialized F-16s equipped with the HARM Targeting System (HTS). The HTS pod, used by the USAF only, allows F-16s to detect and automatically target radar systems with HARMs instead of relying on the missile's sensors alone.

The Navy's FY 2016 budget included funding for an extended range AARGM-ER that uses the existing guidance system and warhead of the AGM-88E with a solid integrated rocket-ramjet for double the range. In September 2016, Orbital ATK unveiled its extended-range AARGM-ER, which incorporates a redesigned control section and 11.5 in (290 mm)-diameter rocket motor for twice the range and internal carriage on the Lockheed Martin F-35A and F-35C Lightning II; internal carriage on the F-35B isn't possible due to internal space limitations. The new missile utilizes the AARGM's warhead and guidance systems in a new airframe that replaces the mid-body wings with aerodynamic strakes along the sides with control surfaces relocated to low-drag tail surfaces and a more powerful propulsion system for greater speed and range. It reportedly increases the range over the AGM-88E by 20-50%, which would result in the AGM-88G's range being around 96–120 nmi (178–222 km; 110–138 mi). The U.S. Navy awarded Orbital ATK a contract for AARGM-ER development in January 2018. The USAF later joined the AARGM-ER program, involved in internal F-35A/F-35C integration work, and selected the AARGM-ER to serve as the basis for their land-attack Stand in Attack Weapon (SiAW).