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AARGM Evolution

US Navy details AARGM in-depth

We file this report following the Navy League SAS briefing by the US Navy-Orbital ATK team on US Navy’s AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM). This update supplements the recent, in-depth MONCh posting on the topic published at  https://monch.com/mpg/news/air/3111-constant-improvements.html.

The US Navy’s AARGM is in Lot 6 full rate production (FRP) with prime contractor Orbital ATK responsible for the conversion of AGM-88B High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles into 230 AARGM All-Up-Rounds and six captive air training missiles. The service intends to award an option for production Lot 7 contract this year. “We have increased the US quantities up to what is roughly the US maximum production rate and we’ll do that through fiscal year 2023,” Capt. Matthew “Mitch” Commerford, Program Manager for Direct and Time Sensitive Strike Weapons (PMA-242), said.

Concurrently, last year, PMA-242 implemented AARGM Block 1 software upgrade, a software-only upgrade to fielded weapons, that implements remaining enhancements from the initial test and evaluation phase. The service captain continued: “We’ve made the systemme KPP [key performance parameter]-compliant with several different refinements to the algorithms. We have finished fielding that to about 400 weapons in the US Navy. That is complete and we’re delivering weapons in the Block 1 configuration.”

PMA-242 is further working on a conceptual AARGM Block 1A which will deliver yet more future capabilities. A timeline has not been established to complete the funded, unspecified enhancements. A good bet is these enhancements will be software-based, permitting more near-term responsiveness to the changing threat environment.

The “next exciting,” longer-term AARGM programme effort is the ARRGM extended range (ER) variant. “We are on contract with Orbital ATK for missile section integration which will take us to a preliminary design for that capability,” Captain Commerford said, and revealed: “The forward piece will be modular, we’ll be starting with the legacy warhead, with the ability to have modular upgrade system there. We’ll be reusing the guidance section electronics and control section electronics so the complicated, high-end RF and dual-mode seeker system, will be the same as the production variant in the 2022-2023 timeline. Common electronics, common ‘brain’ common support infrastructure, but a much different airframe.”

Gordon Turner, Vice President of Programs and Business Development for Orbital ATK’s Defense Electronic Systems division, noted his company was in source selection for the rocket motor and control actuation system assembly major subsystems for the ER upgrade. “We can’t give a lot of detail on those two sub-systems other than to say we are significantly into the process of making those critical supplier selections sometime in the next several months,” the industry veteran added.

AGM-88E will be integrated “as a threshold” on [Boeing’s] EA-G GROWLER and F/A-18 E/F Super HORNET, with PMA-242 expecting to have “compatibility with [Lockheed Martin’s] F-35C, so we’ll be able to fit in there and be compatible with that internal carriage but will not yet, integrate it into a software block on F-35. That is a future increment,” the service manager said.

In 2005, Italy signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States regarding Italy’s involvement in the weapon’s development, and its intention to procure up to 250 AGM-88E examples. Last week at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, California, Aeronautica Militaire (Italian Air Force) finished the last of its initial tests and evaluations of the integration of the AARGM on the TORNADO-ECR variant. “This is exciting for them, in that all of this work of the cooperative development that has happened over these many years is now an operational capability for them,” Captain Commerford remarked and added, “They completed two live-fire tests, both successful and rounding out their operational evaluation.”

Part of the 2018 US National Defense Strategy directs the Pentagon to partner with other nations to expand capabilities of weapons system. To that end PMA-242 is fulfilling that guidance through the AARGM programme beyond its engagement effort with Italy, with the PM reporting “We do have a letter of request from Germany and we continue to provide information to other potential partner countries, as the AARGM programme is to a steady and mature production stance.”

Marty Kauchak

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