NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.–Captive carry-testing of an extended-range variant of the Navy’s anti-radiation missile is expected to begin in fiscal year 2020 and be followed by flight-testing some time in FY ’21, a service official said on Monday.

The Navy and prime contractor Northrop Grumman [NOC] want to move swiftly to get Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile-Extended Range (AARGM-ER) to the warfighter, Capt. Matthew Commerford, program manager, Direct & Time Sensitive Strike, said at a media briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference here.

The initial focus of AARGM-ER is to contend with the threat from near-peer competitors, Commerford said. Eventually, additional enhancements can be considered for payloads and sensors, he said.

Northrop Grumman’s AARGM-ER missile check fit in the F-35 weapons bay. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

The Navy in March awarded Northrop Grumman a $323 million contract for engineering and manufacturing development of AARGM-ER, which includes substantial enhancements to the baseline AARGM missile that was fielded in 2012. Commerford said that AARGM production with Northrop Grumman is at full capacity at 300 missiles a month.

The AARGM missile itself is an upgrade and enhancement to the High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, better known as HARM, which is produced by Raytheon [RTN].

HARM missiles are used to suppress enemy air defenses by targeting active air defense radar. AARGM can target both active and inactive radar and is also used in anti-ship missions.

The Navy expects AARGM-ER to achieve initial operating capability in 2023 aboard the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft. The Air Force plans to have the missile integrated on its F-35A strike fighters in 2025.

The upgrades that Northrop Grumman will do for the AARGM-ER include a new solid rocket motor to increase range, elimination of mid-body wings and actuators and the addition of aero-strakes for increased lift, a more compact warhead with the same level of lethality and designed with growth for future avionics upgrades, integrated control actuation for tail control, thermal protection and radome insulation for higher and faster operations, and a modular payload section design, according to one of Commerford’s briefing slides. He said the AARGM-ER is a “new build for most of the airframe pieces.”

The electronics used in the current production will remain the same, he said, helping to maintain production efficiencies during the transition from AARGM to the extended range version.

Northrop Grumman expects the AARGM-ER to be a franchise program for it, resulting in billions of dollars of future sales. The AARGM is in use by the Italian Air Force and Australia, and Germany is working to integrate the missile on its Tornado aircraft.

As AARGM-ER matures, the Navy believes there will be “significant interest” in the missile from international customers, Commerford said.