TechNew long-range missiles could redefine air combat superiority

New long-range missiles could redefine air combat superiority

F/A-18E Super Hornet with new tested long-range air-to-air missiles based on the SM-6.
F/A-18E Super Hornet with new tested long-range air-to-air missiles based on the SM-6.
Images source: © Instagram | aeros808

9:16 AM EDT, July 3, 2024

The first photos from the new long-range air-to-air missile tests, which will allow American pilots to regain air supremacy, have surfaced online. They are introducing the XAIM-174B.

According to the portal The Aviationist, photos show an F/A-18E Super Hornet belonging to VFA-192 "Golden Dragons." It was taxiing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, carrying two XAIM-174B missiles, which are expected to evolve into the AIM-174B in the future.

The photo below shows the Super Hornet with missiles marked NAIM-174B, indicating training or test missiles that are fully complete except for the warhead. Additional equipment, such as devices for collecting flight parameters, might occupy this space.

XAIM-174B missiles - based on SM-6 anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missiles

After the retirement of the F-14 Tomcat aircraft along with AIM-54 Phoenix missiles in 2004, Americans were left without rockets with a range of around 124 miles. Upgrades didn’t fill the gap to the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, significantly inferior to the European MBDA Meteor or its Chinese counterpart, the PL-15, with a range of approximately 124 miles.

Americans adopted available technology to address this capability gap instead of designing something entirely new. Modifying the anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missiles that could be launched from airplanes was considered a viable idea.

The photos confirm that the XAIM-174B is essentially an SM-6 with the MK72 rocket booster removed, as it is unnecessary when launching at high altitudes where the air is thinner than just above the ground. This likely also reduced the missile’s weight from 3,307 lbs to possibly below 2,205 lbs.

The result is an air-to-air missile with an estimated range of up to 155 miles or more. Its guidance system uses an active radar homing head similar to the AIM-120 AMRAAM, and a 309 lb warhead is responsible for eliminating the target.

It is also possible that the missile’s speed, approximately Mach 3.5 (2,684 mph), will remain unchanged. The main missile engine could achieve this speed in the thinner atmosphere without the booster, which was necessary for ground or water-level launches.

Related content