The Air Force and Navy’s Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAMs) fires from a wide range of U.S. and international fighter jets increasingly faced with massive amounts of new, high-tech threats requiring advances in air-to-air combat technology.
This may be part of the reason why the Air Force is acquiring a large number of new AMRAAMs in what’s called Lot 34, a batch of missiles that includes the latest round of upgrades. This batch of missiles will arm the U.S. F-15, F-16, FA-18, F-22, F-35 jet fighter platforms and may enter the USAF and Navy fleets through fiscal 2029, a Raytheon statement says.
The Air Force has just awarded a large $518 million deal to AMRAAM-maker Raytheon to produce new weapons surging into the future.
“This basic contract award provides for the production of the Lot 34 AMRAAMs, Captive Air Training Missiles, guidance sections, AMRAAM Telemetry System, initial and field spares, and other production engineering support hardware and activities,” the Raytheon essay states.
It does not seem surprising that the Air Force is interested in arming its fleet with growing numbers of air-to-air missiles to confront fast-emerging major power rivals now operating fifth-generation fighters. The era of the U.S. Air Force’s primary focus upon counterinsurgency is over, as the service is moving quickly to confront the prospect of attacking enemy aircraft in the air, using long-range sensors, advanced weapons and dog fighting capability.
This reality might be part of why the U.S. Air Force continues to upgrade the F-22 stealth fighter jet and also fast-track a super high-speed, newer stealthy sixth-generation jet fighter. Sensors and targeting systems, as well, are being refined to better detect and attack enemy aircraft with greater precision, across a wider target envelope and at longer ranges. The F-35 stealth fighter jet, for instance, has in live wargames replicating air-warfare conditions shown an ability to detect and destroy a large number of attacking enemy fighters before it is seen itself.
At the same time, an ability to dogfight is not being ignored by Air Force weapons developers and F-35 pilots, because Chinese J-31s and Russian Su-57s are expected to introduce extremely credible threats to U.S. Air superiority.
Flight trajectory is yet another avenue of focus for the AMRAAM as many air-to-air weapons, such as an AIM-9X, are being upgraded to fire “off boresight,” meaning they can change course in flight to attack targets behind, below or on the side of an aircraft. With newer kinds of guidance, sensor and propulsion technologies, air-to-air missiles can now curve mid-air to adjust to non-linear targets at different, previously unreachable angles for most air-to-air strike weapons. Raytheon and Air Force weapons developers are also fast-developing countermeasures built into air-fired weapons to ensure they stay on course in flight to targets in an advanced “jamming” environment.
A potential adversary may, for instance, draw upon electronic warfare weapons to try to jam, derail or throw off an incoming air—to-air missile by interfering with the radio-frequency targeting systems. One possible way to counter this might be what’s called “frequency hopping,” meaning a weapon can be engineered or pre-programmed to automatically jump or switch its transmission frequency in the event that it detects an attacking electronic signature.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.