Australia could become the first foreign nation to buy the radar-guided Raytheon AIM-120D air-to-air missile under a $1.1 billion foreign military sales package approved by the US government this week.
AIM-120D is the latest variant of Raytheon’s popular AMRAAM series, developed for the US Air Force and Navy. The networked, beyond-visual-range missile introduces satellite-aided navigation, a two-way datalink and new guidance software that “improves kinematic performance and weapon effectiveness”. It has greater range than the legacy variants and is optimised for high-angle off-boresight shots.
Canberra has requested 450 missiles – as well as instrumented test vehicles and spare guidance sections – for integration and carriage on the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and E/A-18G Growler fleets as well as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) says in a 25 April notice that the military hardware, produced by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Arizona, is worth an estimated $1.08 billion. The overall acquisition is valued at $1.22 billion. The US military completed AIM-120D operational testing in July 2014 and it was declared combat-ready by Navy in January 2015, followed by the Air Force that July.
The F-35 will eventually be integrated with the AIM-120D
Last year, Raytheon’s director of AMRAAM business development Neil Jennings told Flightglobal that several nations had expressed strong interest in the AIM-120D but it had not yet been approved for export. Until now, the most sophisticated variant approved for export has been the AIM-120C7, which is integrated with the F-15, F-16, F/A-18, F-22, F-35, Typhoon, Gripen, Tornado and Harrier.
Thirty-seven nations currently employ the C-series AMRAAM and Australia will become the lead customer for the D-model if it proceeds with an acquisition. The US services expect to keep buying the AIM-120D through fiscal year 2027.
AIM-120D noise and vibration testing on the F-22 at Edwards AFB in California
“This proposed sale will provide the RAAF additional air-to-air intercept capability and increase interoperability with the US Air Force,” DSCA states in its notice. “The principal contractor for production is Raytheon. The principal contractor for integration is unknown and will be determined during contract negotiations.”
Australia imports most of its airborne weaponry from America was also first foreign nation to receive the Lockheed AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Weapon (JASSM) and is probably eying the latest iteration, the JASSM-Extended Range. It has also requested Raytheon’s newest dogfighting missile, the AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder. Australia is the only foreign operator of the Growler electronic attack jet and will be the first to receive the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton.
RAAF is acquiring 72 F-35As