Last month, the U.S. 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) and the 83d Fighter Weapons Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla. set an air-to-air missile range record when a Boeing [BA] F-15C hit a Kratos [KTOS] BQM-167 subscale drone with a Raytheon Technologies [RTX] Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) AIM-120D, the U.S. Air Force said on Apr. 14.
The 28th TES and the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron are part of the Air Force’s 53rd Wing, which conducts operational testing.
While the service did not disclose the range of last month’s test hit, defense analysts estimate that the AIM-120D, the latest version of AMRAAM, has a range of some 100 miles. The initial AIM-120A AMRAAM achieved initial operational capability in 1991.
The AIM-120D shot last month resulted “in a ‘kill’ of the aerial target from the furthest distance ever recorded,” per the 53rd Wing. “The test took place out of Tyndall AFB, Fla., in conjunction with WSEP [Weapons Systems Evaluation Program] East. ”
Air Force Maj. Aaron Osborne of the 28th TES said in a statement that the test shot last month “supported requests from the CAF [Combat Air Forces] for ‘long range kill chain’ capabilities.”
The 53rd Wing said that last month’s test set the stage for the modernization of the Eglin-Gulf Test and Training Range to support future long-range weapons testing.
Last month’s test comes as the Air Force is developing the Lockheed Martin [LMT] AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile (JATM). The service has said that the first flight test will occur this year in preparation for initial operational capability next year.
The Air Force and the Navy are to field JATM on the Lockheed Martin F-22, the Boeing F/A-18E/F, and the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter aircraft.
In 2019, the Air Force announced it was developing JATM to counter the Chinese-made PL-15 air-to-air missile (Defense Daily, June 20, 2019). JATM is to have a longer range than the AIM-120D to deter and win against countries with advanced aerial capabilities, such as China. While the Air Force has divulged little about JATM and has said that its capabilities are classified, defense analysts have said that the missile will likely have a speed of Mach 4 to 5 and a range of 120 to 150 miles.
The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Armament Directorate at Eglin AFB said on Apr. 15 that JATM is in the engineering and manufcaturing development (EMD) phase.
“The program will leverage advanced propulsion technology to improve the range and time of flight of the JATM as compared to inventory air-to-air weapons,” per the directorate. “Details of the acquisition program and flight test schedule are classified. Production timelines are dependent on the successful completion of the EMD phase. Funding information is classified at this time. The specific criteria for Initial Operational Capability (IOC) declaration, along with the criteria for Full Operational Capability (FOC), will be determined within the DAF [Department of the Air Force] and the DON [Department of the Navy] at a future date.”