DN - Defence Notes

SAS 2017: Orbital ATK reveals missile range extension

10th April 2017 - 03:04 GMT | by Scott Gourley in Washington, D.C.

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In the cat and mouse game between ground radars and anti-radiation missiles, it appears that the missiles are poised to make the next move.

At least that's the message from Orbital ATK in highlighting a potential new Extended Range (ER) modification for the AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM). The company showcased the new design at the recent Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition, held outside Washington, D.C.

Orbital ATK representatives explained that the current AARGM was derived from the legacy HARM High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) program of the mid-1980s. That missile prompted those air defence units to alter their tactics, through selective turning off of radars and elimination of their signals. Those tactics created the possibility of an errant HARM striking an unintended target.

To reduce that risk, the next move by the missile community was an international programme called HARM-PNU [Precision Navigation Upgrade] that essentially gave the HARM an 'electronic leash' of GPS waypoint geo-specificity that created boundaries for engagement locations.

However, the need to 'hit targets' remained, and that need helped support development of the AARGM design, which adds a millimetre wave 'end game' targeting radar to the missile, allowing the missile will fly out to a general location before the millimetre wave radar 'finds' the reflection that looks most like the intended target.

Company representatives noted that one response in ground air defence capabilities has been the development of longer engagement ranges against the delivering aircraft.

Those developments have led programme planners to see the need for an AARGM Extended Range (ER) design. The US Navy's Program Executive Office, Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons hosted an industry day in early February to outline their desire for an AARGM-ER 'that leverages existing AGM-88E AARGM components' with a propulsion system development that 'compliment[s] modifications to existing AGM-88E front end components'.

The Orbital ATK concept places the legacy AARGM seeker on a new airframe, which expands from the 10-inch diameter seeker to a larger diameter propulsion section. The concept also moves from rail-launch to a jettison-launch design using spring-loaded retractable lugs, eliminating the drag of the rail devices.

Drag is further reduced through the elimination of mid body wings, repackaging of control section electronics and use of an aft actuator with smaller wings and less drag.

'You can go further with the same manoeuvrability “end game" required for to manoeuvre against targets,' offered one company representative.

Acknowledging that the navy was still finalising its approach, they added that the Orbital ATK design 'is the highest TRL [technology readiness level] we could possibly achieve and the quickest to market'.

'And if you look at the funding line they are looking to start buying hardware in the 2019 timeframe.'

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