DAYTON, Ohio The Air Force is moving quickly to develop a new air-to-air missile that would eventually replace the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), the leader of the service’s armaments directorate at Air Force Materiel Command said June 20.

The forthcoming AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile (JATM) program is proceeding “extremely fast” to counter the Chinese-made PL-15 air-to-air missile, said Program Executive Officer for Weapons and Armaments Directorate Director Brig. Gen. Anthony Genatempo, speaking with reporters Thursday at the service’s Life Cycle Industry Days conference here. The program is a joint Air Force-Navy effort in partnership with Lockheed Martin [LMT], he added.

Raytheon AMRAAM air-to-air missile being fired from F-35 fighter in test in Oct. 2014. Photo: Air Force.

The AIM-260 would initially be fielded aboard the F-22 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Super Hornet, with future fielding aboard the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Genatempo said. The weapon would have a greater range than the Raytheon [RTN]-manufactured AMRAAM, with different capabilities on board “to go after that specific threat set,” he added. Flight tests are expected to begin in fiscal year 2021, with initial operating capability slated for 2022.

The idea currently is that JATM production would begin right as AMRAAM production started to tail off, for a seamless delivery of missiles to combatant commands, he noted. The last production buy for AMRAAMS is expected in fiscal year 2026, he added.

Outlets including Flight Global reported in 2017 that the Air Force was quietly developing a new missile to replace the 1980s-era AMRAAM.

The Air Force’s fiscal year 2020 military construction budget request included $6,500 to build a JATM storage facility at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, calling the program “the number one air-delivered weapon priority for both the Air Force and the Navy” and saying it “out prioritizes other weapon system improvements and modernization efforts on any fielded aircraft.”

The justification book, released in March, also noted that because of the classified nature of the program the JATM assets can’t be housed in shared facilities with legacy munitions, and said without the requested funds to build a new storage area, the “rapid required fielding” of the missiles would be delayed.

The House Appropriations Military Construction Subcommittee included the requested funds in their FY ’20 spending bill.