The US Navy (USN) plans to award a sole source contract to Northrop Grumman to start manufacturing the AGM-88G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile Extended Range (AARGM-ER), a weapon used to destroy adversary radar and communications systems.

The firm fixed price contract would be for low rate initial production lots one and two, says Naval Air Systems Command in a notice posted online on 4 November. The number of missiles the service intends to buy and the value of the anticipated contracts were not disclosed. It also intends to buy an undisclosed number of training missiles, spare parts and support equipment.

US Navy captive carry test AARGM-ER on FA-18E

Source: US Navy

US Navy captive carry test AARGM-ER on F/A-18E

The AARGM-ER passed its critical design review in June. The service has said that it plans to award a first production contract to Northrop Grumman in the third quarter of fiscal year 2021.

The AARGM-ER is an extended-range version of the USN’s current AARGM weapon, which is already in production and service. The –ER variant borrows many components of the original AARGM, but includes a new warhead for increased destruction and new rocket motor for increased range. The original had four fins arrayed around its mid-body, but the extended range variant has a strake along its length to increase lift.

Anti-radiation missiles are designed to destroy enemy radar, jammers and radio transmitters. The weapons are used mostly in the early phases of a campaign – the so-called suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) – to blind an adversary and cut off its ability to communicate, and thus coordinate a strong defence.

Once an adversary’s integrated air defences are destroyed, they will likely have more difficulty shooting downing US fighters and bombers. Thus, those combat aircraft can then focus on destroying tanks, armoured vehicles and other ground forces, clearing the way for the US Army and US Marine Corps.

Northrop Grumman AARGM-ER fit check in F-35 - 970 (1)

Source: Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman AARGM-ER fit check in F-35

With the US Air Force such SEAD missions have often been led by stealth aircraft, such as the now-retired Lockheed Martin F-117 Nighthawk. That aircraft played an important role in the opening hours of the Gulf War against Iraq’s air defences.

However, AARGM-ER is classified as a standoff weapon, meaning nonstealth aircraft can launch it from beyond the reach of enemy surface-to-air missiles. The missile’s precise range is not disclosed.

It seems because of its long range the USN believes the AARGM-ER could be effectively launched from the service’s Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler. The USN plans to integrate the missile on those two carrier-based aircraft before eventually also integrating it with all three variants of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter.