Here's what you need to remember: Despite their awe-inspiring name, in actuality, anti-radiation missiles have nothing to do with nuclear power and radiation following nuclear explosions. Instead, they are an anti-air defense weapon, typically fired from the air at targets on the ground, though in some cases, they can also be fired at other aircraft.
No, it’s not some doomsday weapon — but it will give the Navy a potent capability nonetheless.
The United States Navy will receive a new missile into service, the AGM-88G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range (AARGM-ER).
Northrop Grumman, the AARGM-ER manufacturer, explains that their missile is a “supersonic, air-launched tactical missile system. It has the capability to perform Destruction of Enemy Air Defense missions and is an upgrade to the U.S. Navy AGM-88 HARM system. AARGM is able to rapidly engage traditional and advanced land- and sea-based air-defense threats, as well as non-radar, time-sensitive strike targets.”
Furthermore, the company’s “next-generation AARGM Extended Range (AARGM-ER) program, for the U.S. Navy, is building upon AARGM, currently in production. By leveraging AARGM sensors and electronics, the addition of a new rocket motor and warhead, AARGM-ER will provide advanced capability to detect and engage long-range adversary air defense systems.”
Despite their awe-inspiring name, in actuality, anti-radiation missiles have nothing to do with nuclear power and radiation following nuclear explosions. Instead, they are an anti-air defense weapon, typically fired from the air at targets on the ground, though in some cases, they can also be fired at other aircraft.
Anti-radiation missile’s mode of operation is simple: they home in on enemy radio emissions. Generally speaking, they home in ground-based radar stations used to detect enemy aircraft and direct surface-to-air missiles. However, fighter jets can also use anti-radiation missiles to take out smaller radio communication stations or radar jamming equipment.
The earliest anti-radiation missiles were quite simple. Programmed to follow or ‘ride’ radio waves to their source, they would explode when close to a radio emission source. The best defense against these early missiles was turning off radio comms, denying the missiles a path to follow. Once destroyed or no longer airborne, air defense operators could again turn on their radio equipment.
More advanced anti-radiation missiles countered radio silence by incorporating an inertial guidance system into their flight guidance, allowing the missile to ‘remember’ where the radio source had been. Once turned off, a missile could use the radio signal’s last known location to plot a course to the target.
The most modern anti-radiation missiles can loiter in the air for extended periods of time, moving closer to radio emission sources as they are activated, even intermittently.
Although the AARGM-ER’s range is difficult to determine definitively, it is thought to be around double its predecessor. If true, the AARGM-ER’s range would be greater than 222 kilometers or about 140 miles. Following a recent successful live-fire event, the missile is slated for integration onto the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler and the Air Force F-35A, Marine Corps F-35B, and Navy and Marine Corps F-35C.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.
This article first appeared earlier this year and is being reprinted earlier this year.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.