The website GovTribe published a “federal contract opportunity” in May 2017 for what it called an “Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) Captive Equipment (ACE) Dual Variant Pod.” The listing was posted by Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Eglin Air Force Base, with the work to be performed in Arizona.
“This modification to the existing AMRAAM Field Team Support contract, FA8675-16-C-0067, includes requirements to develop, procure, and assemble a dual variant AIM-120C8 and AIM-120D3 ACE pod due to asset availability limitations and current inventory inability to provide full capabilities to AFLCMC/EBAD,” the listing said.
According to the War Zone, the AIM-120 AMRAAM was spotted during a recent exercise.
“Images of an F-16C fighter jet carrying the AMRAAM Captive Equipment, or ACE, pod appeared after the latest Test Flag Enterprise, or TFE, which fuses together geographically separated drills using datalink networks,” the War Zone’s Thomas Newdick reported. “This relates to the Pentagon’s emerging Joint All-Domain Command and Control architecture, or JADC2, which aims to connect sensors from all U.S. military services into a single network.”
The story cited images published by the Air Force and noted that the pod was seen at Eglin Air Force Base in late October.
The pod is designed to be linked to the aircraft like a live missile would, but to send data back to the plane related to simulated missile launches.
“Unlike a real AMRAAM, of course, the ACE pod’s combination of actual missile components and environmental conditioning equipment allows the pilot to simulate multiple launches — a significant benefit in a target-rich large-force exercise, or when various different launch parameters need to be assessed,” the War Zone reported. “Importantly, the pod's missile seeker also goes active (as it would for the terminal phase of the engagement), to demonstrate all performance parameters of the seeker. This is critical data to not only certify the capabilities of the missile, but to improve and upgrade it so that it performs better against countermeasures and under unique employment circumstances.”
The War Zone also cited a report from the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC):
“After simulated launch, the ACE pod receives the datalink and, when in range of the target will activate its onboard transmitter and attempt to acquire the target. The ACE pod utilizes the same tactical software as an actual missile. All missile functions are captured and transmitted in real-time through secure telemetry channels,” DTIC said. “The post-flight analysis includes a detailed analysis of aircraft datalink, missile functioning and track file activity, and TSPI [time-space position information] comparison of actual versus system targeting information. ACE flight data is utilized post-flight to both help verify simulation validity and to improve the fidelity of the datalink database.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver