Raytheon AIM-120 Slammer

The AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) is a new generation air-to-air missile. It has an all-weather, beyond-visual-range capability. AMRAAM is a supersonic, air launched, aerial intercept, guided missile employing active radar target tracking, proportional navigation guidance, and active Radio Frequency (RF) target detection. It employs active, semi-active, and inertial navigational methods of guidance to provide an autonomous launch and leave capability against single and multiple targets in all environments.

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Specifications

Primary Function: Advanced medium-range air-to-air missile
Power Plant: Solid propellant rocket motor build by Hercules
Thrust: Classified
Speed: Mach 4
Range: 30 - 97 nautical miles
Length: 143.9 inches
Wingspan: 20.7 inches
Warhead: Blast fragmentation
Guidance System: Semi-active and active radar homing
Aircraft Platforms: F-5, F-15, F-16, F18, F22, F35, German F4, British Sea Harrier. Panavia Tornado, Saab JAS 69 Gripen
Unit Cost: Approximately: $386,000
Manufactured by: Raytheon Corporation

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History

AMRAAM has an all-weather, beyond-visual-range (BVR) capability. It improves the aerial combat capabilities of US and allied aircraft to meet the threat of enemy air-to-air weapons as they existed in 1991. AMRAAM serves as a follow-on to the AIM-7 Sparrow missile series. The new missile is faster, smaller, and lighter, and has improved capabilities against low-altitude targets. It also incorporates a datalink to guide the missile to a point where its active radar turns on and makes terminal intercept of the target. An inertial reference unit and micro-computer system makes the missile less dependent upon the fire-control system of the aircraft.

Once the missile closes in on the target, its active radar guides it to intercept. This feature, known as "fire-and-forget", frees the aircrew from the need to further provide guidance, enabling the aircrew to aim and fire several missiles simultaneously at multiple targets and perform evasive maneuvers while the missiles guide themselves to the targets.

The missile also features the ability to "Home on Jamming," giving it the ability to switch over from active radar homing to passive homing – homing on jamming signals from the target aircraft. Software on board the missile allows it to detect if it is being jammed, and guide on its target using the proper guidance system.

The AMRAAM was used for the first time on December 27, 1992, when a USAF F-16D shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 that violated the southern no-fly-zone. Interestingly, this missile had been returned from the flight line as defective a day earlier. AMRAAM gained a second victory in January 1993 when an Iraqi MiG-23 was shot down by a USAF F-16C.

The third combat use of the AMRAAM was in 1994, when a Republika Srpska Air Force J-21 Jastreb aircraft was shot down by a USAF F-16C that was patrolling the UN-imposed no-fly zone over Bosnia. In that engagement, at least three other Serbian aircraft were shot down by USAF F-16C fighters using AIM-9 missiles (see Banja Luka incident for more details). At that point, three launches in combat had resulted in three kills, resulting in the AMRAAM's being informally named "slammer" in the second half of the 1990s.

In 1998 and 1999 AMRAAMs were again fired by USAF F-15 fighters at Iraqi aircraft violating the No-Fly-Zone, but this time they failed to hit their targets. During the spring of 1999, AMRAAMs saw their main combat action during Operation Allied Force, the Kosovo bombing campaign. Six Serbian MiG-29 were shot down by NATO (4 USAF F-15C, 1 USAF F-16C, 1 Dutch F-16A MLU), all of them using AIM-120 missiles (the kill by the F-16C may have happened due to friendly fire, from SA-7 MANPAD fired by Serbian infantry).

As of mid 2008, the AIM-120 AMRAAM has shot down nine aircraft (six MiG-29s, one MiG-25, one MiG-23, and one Soko J-21 Jastreb). An AMRAAM was also involved in a friendly fire incident in 1994 when F-15 fighters patrolling Iraq's Northern No-Fly Zone inadvertently shot down a pair of U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters.

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