The US Air Force has cancelled the next generation missile (NGM) meant to replace both the anti-air AIM-120 AMRAAM and the anti-radiation AGM-88 HARM, both mainstays of the USA and its international allies.
The NGM programme, also formerly known as the joint dual-role air dominance missile and projected to cost up to $15 billion, was cancelled "for affordability reasons", according to Gen Edward Bolton, USAF chief budget officer.
The contest was eagerly anticipated by major aerospace companies, including Aerojet, Alliant Techsystems, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
Following the 13 February decision, the USAF will instead continue to buy AMRAAM and HARM weapons, both designs that date from the Cold War era, with no clear replacement in sight. As recently as December 2011, air force officials had placed NGM as a high priority, saying that not buying the weapon would create unacceptable operational risks.
Both Russia and China have been developing advanced long-range air-to-air missiles, while six European air forces will begin fielding MBDA's Meteor beyond visual-range weapon from 2015.
The US Department of Defense has invested heavily in technologies required for a new missile. Boeing won Air Force Research Laboratory contracts for an integrated sensor and fusing system, directional warhead and long-range rocket motor. Meanwhile the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded Boeing and Raytheon contracts to develop a next generation missile propulsion system under the triple target terminator (T3) programme, which was intended to support NGM. The future of the T3 programme is uncertain.
Air-to-air combat, despite requiring cutting-edge technologies, is a very rare occurrence in modern warfare. Despite over a decade of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, neither conflict resulted in air-to-air engagement, including during the initial invasions.