Italian Air Force performs more AGM-88E development work
The Aeronautica Militaire (Italian Air Force) is moving forward with the integration of new Orbital ATK AGM-88E AARGM (Advaned Anti-Radiation Guided Missiles) onboard its Panavia TORNADO-ECR SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defence) combat aircraft with a deployment of four such jets to the US Navy China Lake airbase in California.
The deployment to China Lake is part of an operational test and evaluation initiative focused on the TORNADO-ECR and the AGM-88E. This aircraft is already cleared to deploy the Raytheon AGM-88B HARM (High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) alongside the TORNADO-ECR aircraft of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force); providing half of the dedicated SEAD capability of NATO’s European membership.
Italy signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States in 2005 concerning the development of the AGM-88E, with the Italian Air Force announcing an intention to procure up to 250 examples. Full rate production of the AGM-88E commenced in 2012, with 72 AGM-88Es being delivered to the US Navy and 12 to the Italian Air Force. Interestingly, the Italian TORNADO-ECR is cleared to deploy the Boeing GBU-32 satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition. This allows the aircraft to perform the Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (DEAD) mission. This mission focuses on the application of kinetic effects against known fixed and mobile ground-based air defence targets such as ground control interception centres, ground-based air surveillance or Fire Control/Ground Controlled Interception (GCI) radars, and surface-to-air missile batteries. Meanwhile, the AGM-88E can be used to perform the SEAD role ensuring that pre-briefed and ground-based air surveillance and FC/GCI radars which are emitting can be targeted to protect a strike package, or as part of a larger campaign-level SEAD/DEAD effort.
In terms of specification, the AGM-88E is an improvement on the Raytheon AGM-88C HARM which adds an enhanced Radio Frequency (RF) homing seeker and a millimetre wave radar. The new seeker improves the field-of-view of the AGM-88C seeker, sharpening its detection capabilities vis-à-vis ground-based air surveillance radars. The radar sensor provides high resolution imagery during the end game providing an analytical tool for post-sortie analysis of the attack’s accuracy. In addition to the AGM-88E, technically the Tornado-ECR could deploy Raytheon’s AGM-88F HARM which also adds a number of enhancements to the AGM-88C enshrined in the HARM Control Section Modification (HCSM) which adds a Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System (GPS/INS) to the missile to outflank the ‘switch off’ where radar operators deactivate their equipment in an effort to break the missile’s RF lock on the radar’s emissions. The GPS/INS also allows the missile to be programmed with the radar’s geographical location to render the switch off tactic void and provides the AGM-88F with pre-programmed zones of exclusion where it is not permitted to fly, reducing the possibility of the missile hitting an unauthorised aim point.