While the Navy finished its last buy of the Northrop Grumman [NOC] AGM-88 Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missiles (AARGM) last year, the company is to continue building the missiles for the Navy until fiscal 2024 when the company plans to reach the goal of delivering 1,803 missiles to the Navy, as the service transitions to the AARGM-Extended Range (AARGM-ER) for use on the Boeing [BA] F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and the E/A-18G Growler.
Since 2011, Northrop Grumman has delivered “well over 1,400” AARGMs–all up rounds, training munitions, and spares–to the Navy, Doug Larratt, Northrop Grumman’s AARGM-ER program director, said during an Apr. 4 program briefing with Navy Capt. Alex Dutko, the service’s program manager for direct and time sensitive strike (PMA-242), at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference.
AARGM-ER, which entered engineering and manufacturing development in March 2019, is to use the dual mode seeker, navigation and active and passive sensors of AARGM and to feature innovations to allow AARGM-ER to suppress and kill advanced, mobile surface-to-air missiles.
“What we needed was range, speed, and survivability,” Larratt said of AARGM-ER. “The focus and the construct was to shoehorn or capture that avionics package–the sensors, both active and passive; the navigation suite; the processing architecture; the software–and incorporate that into a new air vehicle that could do the extended range and survivable mission.”
The AARGM-ER has a new solid rocket motor, a new warhead, and tail control fins with a control actuator system, whereas the AARGM design relies on mid-body control.
On Jan. 21, a Super Hornet completed the Navy’s second flight test of AARGM-ER at the Point Mugu Sea Range off the coast of California where the missile engaged with a land-based emitter target on San Nicholas island (Defense Daily, Feb. 15).
Last December, Northrop Grumman won a $45.6 million contract for 16 all-up rounds and six captive air training missiles under the second lot of low-rate initial production (LRIP) for AARGM-ER. “The overall objective for LRIP 2 is on the order of 54, but we’re in the process of negotiating that,” Dutko said on Apr. 4.
Last September, the Navy authorized the program for Milestone C to move AARGM-ER into LRIP over two years after Northrop Grumman won the engineering and manufacturing development contract to develop the weapon (Defense Daily, Sept. 2, 2021).
Dutko said on Apr. 4 that the Navy expects to finish developmental testing in the next several months and to enter and finish operational testing in fiscal 2023. Initial operational capability for AARGM-ER is expected in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023, and full rate production is expected in fiscal 2025.
In addition to the threshold aircraft–the Super Hornet and the Growler–that are to carry the AARGM-ER, Larratt said on Apr. 4 that requirements have called for Northrop Grumman to show compatibility of AARGM-ER for carriage aboard all three variants of the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 as an objective. Northrop Grumman plans to bring an AARGM-ER avionics bench to the F-35 laboratory this summer to conduct initial integration of AARGM-ER aboard the F-35, he said.
“Thresholds are what we’re funded to, objectives are not,” Dutko said. “F-35 is an objective aircraft for us so we’re working with our partners here to close on that, but right now the Navy is not actively engaged with anything beyond initial aircraft integration.”
The Navy said it has corrected anomalies that resulted in flight deviation in AARGM-ER’s first developmental flight test last July.
“During the first developmental fight test, shortly after missile release, the missile experienced an unexpected pitch up, beyond the predicted angle of attack, that caused it to depart controlled flight for 0.7 seconds,” per a controlled unclassified information version of the fiscal 2021 annual report by the Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.
“During this short period of lost control, the missile yawed 30 degrees north of the intended path and crossed the path of the F/A-18 at a distance of sightly less than 300 feet,” the report said. “Modeling and simulation had predicted a crossover distance of 400 feet. Afer the missile recovered control, its behavior was consistent with modeling and simulation-predicted missile performance. Due to the anomaly, the missile had a peak altitude 25 percent lower than predicted, a peak speed 14 percent lower than predicted, and a shorter range than predicted. The Navy has since modified the AARGM-ER guidance, navigation, and control software to delay the pitch-up maneuver until the missile is 250 feet from the aircraft, which will allow for a crossover distance of approximately 1,000 feet from aircraft, eliminating this problem in future flights while still allowing the missile to meet the threshold range requirement.”