Raytheon confirms that a potential upgrade for the AIM-9X missile paves the way for a follow-on project to dramatically extend the range of the air-to-air weapon.
The company has started captive carry flights for a Block 2 version of the AIM-9X, which includes an updated guidance section, improved fuze and an added data link, said Raytheon business development director James Smith.
Installing the one-way antenna means the AIM-9X would be able to lock on to a target after being launched. This alone would extend the AIM-9X range to nearly beyond visual range, or about 12.9km (6.9nm).
Smith said he expects the USAF eventually to go further and install a more powerful rocket motor that could fully exploit the new data link capability: "Lock-on after launch implies there may be an interest down the road to increase the range."
The Block 2 concept remains in testing. Raytheon plans to complete 21 captive carry and three live fired tests, with the first of the latter starting in October. A production decision by the USAF is expected in the second quarter of 2009, with first delivery possible by 2010.
Meanwhile, Raytheon will select a rocket motor supplier and stage another flight test for a new, heavily modified version of the AIM-120 advanced medium range air to air missile (AMRAAM).
The US Missile Defense Agency has awarded Raytheon a $10 million contract to continue development, and funding could lead to a formal launch in 2010, says Thomas Keck, Raytheon vice-president for Air Force programmes.
Raytheon aims to deliver 20 copies of the new missile - dubbed the Network Centric Air Defence Element (NCADE) - before 2011.