Lockheed Martin has confirmed it is working on a new hit-to-kill (HTK) air-to-air missile which would increase the number of weapons that could be carried by the company's stealthy F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fifth-generation aircraft.

Called the "Cuda", the weapon would increase the F-35's air-to-air load-out from four Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles to eight of the proposed HTK weapons. For the F-22, the number of beyond visual range weapons the jet could carry might increase to as many as 14. The Raptor currently carries six AIM-120s and two Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinders.

"We are still waiting for our materials to be cleared for public release by the Air Force," Lockheed says. "So at this point there really isn't much we can say."

While the company is pitching the weapon to the US Air Force, it does not appear to be part of an active USAF developmental programme. But if the weapon were ever to be developed into an operational system, it could potentially be a game-changer.

"Great concept, assuming Lockheed Martin can get them to actually work," one knowledgeable source says. "I don't think there's a fighter pilot out there that wouldn't want more missiles for free, as long as there is no sacrifice to lethality."

If the weapon proceeds into development, the challenge will be to-at the very least-match the AMRAAM's attributes. The Lockheed concept would have to be as lethal and offer the same or better range. And, it must have a good off-boresight capability. Moreover, it must be fielded quickly and cheaply in the current budget environment. "If the answer to either of those is no, they will have a borderline insurmountable uphill battle," the source says.

Another source adds: "Let's just say if they can turn a missile into a 'hittile' that is a big deal."

Source: Flight International