NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) revealed last week the Italian Air Force conducted a successful test of the AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) and the in-development AARGM-ER is expected to have a “significant improvement in range.”

The AARGM is a joint U.S. Navy- Italian Air Force international cooperative acquisition program, with Orbital ATK [OA] acting as prime contractor. It is an upgrade over the legacy Raytheon [RTN] AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile system (HARM) that targets surface-to-air radar systems.

Orbital ATK's AARGM-ER missile check fit in the F-35 weapons bay. (Photo: Orbital ATK)
Orbital ATK’s AARGM-ER missile check fit in the F-35 weapons bay. (Photo: Orbital ATK)

Capt. Matthew Commerford, program manager for Direct and Time Sensitive Strike Weapons (PMA-242) at NAVAIR, said that the Italian Air Force conducted two live fire tests at the China Lake, Calif.  Naval Air Warfare Center. The Italian military will not take home an AARGM operational capability.

Commerford was speaking at a media briefing during the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space Expo in National Harbor, Md.

Gordon Turner, Orbital ATK vice president of programs and business development for defense electronic systems, added that “it seemed to go very well” and Italy used “two very challenging, difficult test scenarios”

Commerford highlighted the importance of partnering with allies, noting NAVAIR has received a letter request from Germany and will continue to provide information to other potential partners as the program enters a steady and mature production stance.

He underscored AARGM is in full-rate production with Block 6 awarded last year and options for Lot 7 this year. Over 600 missiles have been delivered so far.

In 2017 the AARGM team upgraded the missile to Block 1 as a software-only upgrade to fielded weapons systems. Commerford said they cleaned up software issues for the missile’s front guidance section, issues that were not completed in the initial test and evaluation process. All new missiles being produced will be in the Block 1 software configuration.

Orbital ATK’s AARGM scores a hit against a mobile ship target during Block 1 upgrade test firings. Photo: Orbital ATK.
Orbital ATK’s AARGM scores a hit against a mobile ship target during Block 1 upgrade test firings. Photo: Orbital ATK.

The team is now looking to the next upgrade, called Block 1A. Commerford said it will include future capabilities that have yet to be determined, but the development process was funded n the current FY ’18 budget.

Separately, Commerford explained AARGM-Extended Range (ER) is the “next exciting thing” coming out of the office. It leverages the AARGM development and production but extends the missile’s range and survivability

Commerford was unwilling to discuss details of how extended the ER’s range will be.  Turner said the range is “a lot longer” compared to the baseline missile.

The officials were likewise unwilling to discuss the specifics of whether the AARGM-ER will use a different propellant or add volume to the propellant section. Turner said Orbital ATK is in source selection for the missile, looking at multiple suppliers and each have their own approach for given requirements. He also said the requirements are looking for mature designs, so the competitors are unlikely to offer novel solutions.

They could say AARGM-ER’s design is adding volume to the motor overall because parts like the main body control avtivaton assembly are being removed.

Commerford said from the Navy sponsor’s point of view they asked for a speedy solution so they want solutions and not experimental options.

In the preliminary timeline for the AARMG-ER, the team expects different components to have their preliminary designs this year, and the program will enter engineering and manufacturing development (EMD)  by the first quarter of FY ’19. Turner said they are targeting an initial operating capability (IOC) in 2023.

The Navy said they expect AARGM-ER to integrate as a threshold capability with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler and have internal compatibility with the F-35C, fitting inside its internal carriage.