Raytheon Fires First AIM-120D3 Missile, Seeking Big Range Boost

Boeing F-15E
A Boeing F-15E launched the AIM-120D3 for the missile's first live-fire test.
Credit: 1st Lt. Lindsey Heflin/U.S. Air Force

FARNBOROUGH—Raytheon has fired the first upgraded AIM-120D3 Amraam against a QF-16 test target, setting up a campaign to extend the range of the air dominance missile “significantly,” a company executive said July 18 at the Farnborough International Airshow here.

As the product of a software and hardware change, the AIM-120D3 uses better processing capabilities to extend the missile’s time of flight by more efficient navigation rather than by increasing the amount of propellant or changing the motor.

The first flight test did not attempt to make a new range record, but subsequent testing will extend the time of flight of the missile, says Jon Norman, Raytheon’s vice president of U.S. Air Force air power and capability, who briefed reporters at the air show.

The AIM-120D entered service as the U.S. military’s longest-flying missile, but it still fell short of the rocket-ramjet-powered MBDA Meteor. China also revealed the larger PL-15 missile aboard a J-20 fighter at Airshow China in November 2018.

In response, the Air Force started development of the Lockheed Martin AIM-260 Joint Air Tactical Missile in 2017. Two years later, the Air Force said the AIM-260 would enter service on the Lockheed Martin F-22 in 2022, but have not provided status updates since.

In the meantime, Raytheon has been using software to steadily improve the range of the AIM-120 missile family. A test firing in April 2021 achieved a new distance record for the AIM-120D. A follow-up live fire test by a Boeing F-15EX earlier this year set a new range record for the Amraam, Norman says.

Meanwhile, Raytheon integrated 15 new circuit cards from the Form, Fit and Function Replacement program on the AIM-120D. In combination with new software from the System Improvement Program 3F, the new AIM-120D3 missile is capable of even further range, but the exact distance profile is classified.

The same upgrade with be tested on the exportable AIM-120C8 version of the missile, Raytheon says.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.