End of an Era for Naval AQM-37 Aerial Training Targets

October 28, 2022 Topic: U.S. Navy Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. NavyTrainingAerial Training TargetsSimulationsExercises

End of an Era for Naval AQM-37 Aerial Training Targets

The last two AQM-37 aerial targets—some of the United States' most important targets used for training and exercises—reached the end of their service life.

The U.S. Navy launched the last two of its AQM-37 targets—an air-launched target drone replicating ballistic missiles, high-speed aircraft, and cruise missiles.

“The final launch of the AQM-37 represents the closing of a chapter for the Aerial Targets Program Office (PMA-208) and our industry partners, but also intensifies our focus and provides us the opportunity to start and sustain new chapters with more advanced technology and capabilities that closer resemble the threats we face” said Don Blottenberger, PMA-208 program manager in a statement released by Naval Air Systems Command.

NAV Air explained that more than 5,000 AQM-37 targets have been delivered, launched, and destroyed since the munition made its service debut in 1962. “The system replicated both air-to-air and air-to-surface threats,” the statement explained, adding that it “was able to fly simulated ballistic missile profiles at altitudes of up to 300,000 feet.”

The AQM-37 was widely exported to a number of U.S. partners and allies, including many NATO member nations. It was often launched from the F-16 Fighting Falcon, though the AQM-37 found use in much more modern systems as well despite its age.

The NAV Air statement explained that “Just recently, the Air Force’s 412th Test Wing launched seven AQM-37 targets from F-16s to support testing of E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and F-35 Lightning II capabilities at Navy Exercise Gray Flag at the Point Mugu Sea Range. The AQM-37’s involvement in this exercise and countless others, enhanced capability and supported mission readiness for joint forces.”

“The legacy of the AQM-37 and those who were involved in its development and sustainment through the decades will not be forgotten,” said Blottenberger. “Its 60-year lifespan is a testament to its capability, reliability and the critical role it has played in the security and preparedness of both our own and our international partners’ armed forces.”

Since the target entered service, it played a crucial role in developing and refining the Sea Sparrow Missile (RIM-7) and the Air Intercept Missile (AIM-9) Sidewinder, two of the pillars of U.S. air-to-air missile capabilities.

“Our supersonic technical team has done fantastic work over the last several years to get the final targets launched and put to use in a way that supports development and testing for our military,” Blottenberger said.

“The team saved the Navy close to $1 million by avoiding demilitarization of the last several targets by using them for the Navy Gray Flag Exercise and other test and evaluation events.”

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.

Image: DVIDS.