New AARGM-ER Radar-Killing Missile Flown Aboard Super Hornet for the First Time

AARGM-ER, the US Navy’s newest anti-radiation missile, has been flown onboard a combat aircraft for the first time. The captive flight test was conducted on 1 June, by Naval Air Systems Command, showing steady development progress with this highly advanced missile. This weapon is a further evolution of the AGM-88E AARGM which entered US Navy service in 2012.

AARGM is a revolutionary upgrade to the HARM family which has been the US military’s anti-radar missile of choice since 1985. A key weakness of HARM is its passive sensor relies on an enemy’s radar emissions to track them.
By adding an active radar seeker AARGM improved on this dramatically allowing it to autonomously pursue targets even if they had turned off their radars and were fleeing. So far AARGM has been adopted by the US Navy as well as the Australian, Italian, and German air forces.

An AGM-88 HARM. Note the very large control surfaces on the midbody (Hunini, Wikimedia)

Despite the highly advanced seeker, however, AARGM retained the missile body from HARM which dates back to the 1970s. Vitaly, the large control surfaces of HARM prevented internal carriage aboard stealth aircraft like F-35. To resolve this a revolutionary new missile body was adopted which saw the massive mid-body control surfaces removed and replaced by strakes along the sides of the missile body. Control is instead provided by tail surfaces. This not only greatly reduced the volume required for carriage but also made the missile more aerodynamically efficient. Northrop Grumman has claimed AARGM-ER “more than” doubles its predecessor’s range to ~300 km while increasing the missile’s speed to Mach 3-4. A new rocket motor is being developed to achieve these goals.

A render of AARGM-ER showing it’s very unique strakes. (Render: Akela Freedom)

The Navy intends to use this missile primarily with their F/A-18E and EA-18G fleet while waiting for the USAF to integrate the weapon onboard F-35. However, the USAF does not desire the missile in its current form and intends to modify it to perform a wider mission set. While the Navy sees the weapon primarily as an anti-radar missile with a secondary naval strike mission, the USAF desires something far greater. Under the Stand-in Attack Weapon program, they intend to evolve AARGM-ER into a multipurpose rapid reaction missile intended to destroy enemy strategic assets such as ballistic and cruise missile launchers along with GPS jammers and anti-satellite systems.

AARGM-ER tucked into an F-35’s weapons bay (Photo: Northrop Grumman)