The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has reportedly scored the world’s “longest known air-to-air missile shot to date” as one of its F-15 Eagle jet fighters fired a radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM that blew a BQM-167 drone out of the sky at a record-breaking distance. While the exact range achieved during the test-fire last month was not given, it is a clear signal that the Air Force is making extremely long-range aerial engagements a high priority.
This is critical in light of newer Russian and Chinese air-to-air missiles with reportedly dangerously long ranges.
An F-15C recorded the longest known air-to-air missile shot, firing an AIM-120 AMRAAM at a BQM-167 last month.
Release doesn’t say how long it was. So, China and Russia will have to guess, I suppose.https://t.co/0IjItXZ3hr
— Brian Everstine (@beverstine) April 14, 2021
The Drive reports that the potentially unprecedented missile shot “took place during a WSEP East event — or Weapons System Evaluation Program — that provides air-to-air and air-to-ground training and evaluation, giving pilots the chance to use these weapons for real.” The Air Force conducts these types of tests on the east coast in Florida and in the west in Utah.
The evaluations at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida are called WSEP East, while those at Hill Air Force Base in Utah are known as WSEP West.
According to The Drive:
In this instance, the F-15C fired an AIM-120 AMRAAM at a BQM-167 sub-scale drone, resulting in a successful “kill,” likely achieved somewhere over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where the vital Gulf Range Complex provides over 130,000 square miles of training airspace, allowing both large-scale air combat training and sustained flying at supersonic speeds.
Questions arise though as to whether the Air Force is claiming the longest shot globally, or only limited to U.S. air-to-air systems. The Navy’s older Phoenix missile system used aboard the now-retired F-14 Tomcats had a range over 100 miles.
F-15 Eagle scores “longest known” air-to-air missile shot during U.S. Air Force test:https://t.co/SXcc3rC2B2
— Tyler Rogoway (@Aviation_Intel) April 14, 2021
The Drive explains:
While the model of AIM-120 used in the test was not disclosed, it was almost certainly one of the latest AIM-120D weapons. While it looks outwardly like one of the earlier AMRAAMs, the D-model offers considerably more range. While official performance figures are classified, it is generally assumed to be able to hit targets at a distance of between 75 and 100 miles. Of course, in practical applications, a whole range of factors impact a missile’s reach, above all the energy and altitude state of the launching aircraft and the target.
The claim of the longest known missile engagement is interesting as the U.S. Navy’s AIM-54 Phoenix had a maximum range of around 100 miles and foreign designs supposedly outstrip even that. This points to the AIM-120D having flight profiles that can exceed the reach of those weapons… It is possible that the range was achieved thanks, at least in part, to the power of the F-15C’s massive active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, the APG-63V3… This is likely what is being referred to in the mention of the “kill chain” in the Air Force’s statement on the test.
While this AIM-120 test appears impressive, this missile is reaching the end of its service life. The Air Force and U.S. Navy are already working on the more advanced AIM-260 missile that will replace the AMRAAM.
The AIM-260 is expected to out-distance the AIM-120, even without a ramjet motor, and at least match comparable Chinese and Russian air-to-air missiles. ADN