The highly anticipated AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile—which is expected to eventually replace the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM)—is an American beyond-visual-range air-to-air weapon currently being developed by Lockheed Martin.
After years of working on this highly secretive missile by the aerospace company, there are now reports that testing is underway and that the new weapon could be placed on U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft as soon as next year.
According to Thomas Newdick at the War Zone, “the U.S. Air Force has been busy flying QF-16 Full-Scale Aerial Target, or FSAT, missions in support of the Lockheed Martin AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile program. . . . It’s now clear that test work is well underway, with around thirty FSAT missions last year alone.”
“Our Twitter contact . . . brought attention to the new developments after examining publicly released Air Force data recording various test missions flown by the QF-16 FSAT fleet,” Newdick said. “This consists of F-16 fighter jets converted to drones and used as targets and also flown as manned test assets for chase and range instrumentation flights.”
The AIM-260 is expected to be a huge upgrade compared to the AIM-120—and will rival Chinese and Russian efforts to obtain long-range air-to-air missiles. The U.S. Air Force has admitted that the development of the Chinese PL-15 missile was a major factor in ramping up the AIM-260 program.
Newdick noted that the AIM-260 will be roughly the same size as an AIM-120. This will “allow it to be carried inside internal weapons bays on stealth fighters that were designed to accommodate the AMRAAM,” he said.
However, the “dimensional requirements mean that a ramjet powerplant, as used in the pan-European Meteor missile, is impossible. So, a new type of solid-fuel motor seems to be a given, perhaps a dual-pulse type to ensure energy across the flight envelope just like on the PL-15.”
Increasing Fuel Load
Defense editor Steve Trimble at Aviation Week has speculated that the “new propulsion unit could be combined with miniaturization of other components as a way of increasing the fuel load to eke out yet more range. Advanced highly loaded grain propellant, which is also being developed for use in other air-to-air missiles, could help improve performance without increasing the overall form factor.”
There also could be various options for the warhead too. It could “be a hit-to-kill type missile, with no actual explosive charge, which is another concept that has been discussed in the past in relation to more compact air-to-air missile designs,” according to Trimble.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.