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Italy to join US AGM-88E anti-radar missile work

Talks begin on integrating high-speed weapon’s seeker with Meteor air-to-air system

Italy is expected to sign by early November a memorandum of understanding to participate in development of the AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM), the latest version of the High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is developing for the US Navy.

Meanwhile, Italy is in talks with the USA over the possibility of integrating the AGM-88E’s seeker into the MBDA Meteor beyond-visual range air-to-air missile to improve the capabilities of its Eurofighter Typhoons in the air-defence supression role.

ATK won a $223 million contract in June 2003 to lead the AARGM programme to produce 1,790 missiles worth around $1.55 billion. After a year of government-to-government negotiations, Rome is to provide $20 million of funding for the development phase, of which $13 million will finance work by Italian industrial partners.

ATK has already identified three prospective Italian programme members: MBDA’s Italian arm for the control section of the AARGM; Marconi Industrial Services to install a radar on a tank hull for targeting purposes; and Vitrociset to modify a Beechcraft King Air to accommodate the missile seeker for a captive test campaign. Industrial contracts are expected to be signed next year.

Italy is interested in buying around 250 AGM-88E missiles to be installed on its Panavia Tornado ECR anti-air-defence aircraft.

The Meteor “hybrid” using the AGM-88E seeker would result in an advanced rocket/ramjet-propelled air-to-surface missile. US industrial sources say the plan is technically feasible because the seeker of the 250mm (10in)-diameter AARGM is small enough to be fitted in the 180mm-diameter Meteor.

The AARGM programme was launched in the USA to overcome a problem facing all anti-radiation missiles: when the enemy shuts down its air-defence radar, the passive anti-radiation homing receiver can no longer direct the missile to its target.

ATK has designed a new seeker including, in addition to passive radar homing, a millimetre-wave (MMW) active radar to help locate hostile air-defence equipment, even if it is not emitting.

The new seeker also has a GPS receiver for accurate positioning and a datalink to receive signals from intelligence satellites and transmit information for post-attack damage assessment. The latter features would not be included on Italian missiles because the related sensitive technologies have been developed jointly with the US National Reconnaissance Office.

The AGM-88E is earmarked to enter low-rate production in 2008 and would have a unit cost of $870,000.

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