Air-Launched Weapons

Raytheon selected to deliver next-generation tactical air-to-air missile solutions

21 January 2016
AF-1, of the 461st Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, California, became the first F-35 to fire the AIM-9X missile on 12 January 2016. Source: Chad Bellay/Lockheed Martin

Key Points

  • SACM and MSDM are intended to enhance the primary weapons and equipment load out on US fifth-generation platforms
  • Options for Lockheed Martin's CUDA and KICM solutions remain unclear

Raytheon Missile Systems has secured a contract to research and advance the development of 'increased capabilities' for the next generation of US Air Force air-to-air tactical missiles.

A USD14 million research and development (R&D) contract, awarded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Munitions Directorate on 20 January, requires Raytheon to increase the number of missiles carried on [an air platform in] a single sortie, increase the effectiveness of each missile, and enhance the platform's survivability against all threats in an anti-access, area denial (A2AD) environment.

Specifically, the contract provides for two lines of R&D work to deliver solutions for a Small Advanced Capability Missile (SACM) and a Miniature Self-Defense Munition (MSDM).

The SACM concept is intended to deliver an affordable, highly lethal, small size and weight air-to-air munition, enabling a "high air-to-air load out", for air dominance and increased sortie effectiveness. Envisioned to complement the radar-guided AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) in the weapons load out on US fifth-generation air platforms such as the F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor, SACM is intended as an air-to-air weapons enhancement to counter fourth-/fifth-generation aircraft threats and cruise missiles. AFRL requirements for SACM include a flexible hyper-agile airframe and synergistic control capabilities, high-impulse propulsion, an affordable wide field-of-view seeker, anti-jam guidance, integrated fuze and "aim-able kinetic and non-kinetic effects", to deliver kinematic advantage and enhanced lethality.

SACM is being touted as a potential high-load out alternative for Raytheon's AIM-9X Sidewinder infrared-tracking short-range air-to-air missile for US fifth-generation aircraft. The F-35 is designed to carry two AIM-9X missiles externally and four AIM-120s in its internal weapons bay.

In the interim, on 12 January an F-35 from the US Air Force's (USAF's) 461st Flight Test Squadron launched an AIM-9X for the first time over the Pacific Sea Test Range, Point Mugu, California.

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