“The main focus for any weapon system is not creating a new one, it is to modify the one we have,” Captain Al Mousseau, the US Navy’s (USN) programme manager (PM) for Direct and Time Sensitive Strike Weapons (PMA-242), told assembled delegates at USN League Sea-Air-Space 2017 at Gaylord National Convention Center, National Harbor, MA, USA.. The programme office is using that philosophy to move beyond the heritage AGM-88 HARM missile into the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) family of missiles.
HARM, while earning plaudits through the decades for its lethality and suppressing many types of ground based threats, has not met the rigors of the 2017-era and near-term battle space, but will remain in the service’s inventory into the next decade – a reality not lost on the USN. “The beauty of the HARM is that it is upgradable. They have data bases to allow us to go in and update and maintain their effectivity against the evolving threat. And while the HARM is very effective in the role of suppression, the threat is still there the next day – which means you need more HARM coverage.”
While the HARM is not an affordable solution in the 2017 operating environment, there is a more capable weapon taking its place in real world missions – Orbital ATK’s (Booth #1631) AARGM (Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile). The new missile can destroy a target so the day after it is used on a mission, there is usually not a need to reengage that same target with yet another missile. The Navy-Orbital ATK industry team is taking AARGM through a quickening pace of upgrades and enhancements to increase the missile’s detection range of a target and geospecifity, and introduce this missile’s hit analysis capability from the HARM baseline technology – for starters. The USN PM is striving for affordability – but not “on the cheap” – during the migration to AARGM. Thus, there is a strong reliance on HARM’s modularity to move to AARGM. “We wanted to reuse the warhead and rocket motor from HARM weapons that were no longer in the inventory, and manage the weight, centre of gravity and other attributes,” Mousseau added.
To that end, Orbital ATK is producing a new guidance section and a modified control section for delivered AARGMs. Gordon Turner, vice president of Programs and Business Development for Orbital ATK’s Defense Electronic Systems, concurred that the opportunity is present to significantly increase the AARGM’s capability at a very greatly reduced price by leveraging incremental upgrades to the existing weapon system. The first AARGM was delivered to the Navy Department in 2012. AARGM is a cooperative programme with Italy, with the Italian Air Force working on the missiles’ test programme to permit integration and fitting on the TORNADO ECR aircraft, and that nation’s industry providing vital weapon materiel.
The Royal Australian Air Force is the one programme foreign military sale customer. The Block 1 upgrade was software based, and is expected to be fielded to operating forces starting in third quarter 2017. Another waypoint on AARGM’s roadmap is the Extended Range programme. “We are taking a weapon system that is currently in production and trying to extend the range,” the US PM said. “Our focus remains similar to our effort to upgrade the HARM weapon system – we want to maintain modularity as much as possible and make it affordable.”
The ER programme started in fiscal year 2016 and is expected to be completed in 2023. Additionally, “We’re expected to have our 500th missile delivery this June,” Turner also pointed out.