It has been greater than a decade because the US retired its final formally designated long-range air-to-air missile, the AIM-54 Phoenix—a Chilly Warfare-era weapon that may very well be used to tackle a number of targets from greater than 100 nautical miles (190km) at hypersonic speeds (above Mach 5). However the Phoenix was constructed for the F-14 Tomcat, and the longest-ranged weapon within the quiver of US Navy and Air Pressure fighter pilots since 2004 has been the AIM-120 Superior Medium-Vary Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM)—often known as the “Slammer”—with a considerably shorter attain (160km, or 86 nautical miles).
Air superiority doctrine for the previous twenty years has targeted on taking the enemy’s plane out of the battle earlier than they take off (with cruise missiles and stealth plane assaults on airfields) and technological superiority over no matter can get off the bottom. The F-22 and F-35 each have emphasised stealth (or a minimum of low observability) over weapon capability and attain to make sure they’ll shoot down enemies earlier than they’re even seen. However that is not an equation that’s balancing very nicely anymore because the US faces elevated great-power competitors from China and Russia. That’s the reason the Division of Protection is dashing ahead with growth of a brand new long-range missile, the AIM-260—often known as the Joint Superior Tactical Missile.
In 2016, the Chinese language army efficiently examined the PL-15, a very-long-range air-to-air missile (VLRAAM) with a spread of greater than 200km and a velocity sooner than Mach 5. Some sources have claimed the PL-15 has a spread of greater than double that—over 400km. With a size of over six meters, the PL-15 is meant to interrupt the legs of US airpower by focusing on the plane supporting strike missions—US Air Pressure and Navy refueling and airborne early warning and management plane.
China can also be creating the PL-21, a hypersonic ramjet-based missile that might probably have the identical attain in a extra compact package deal. And the Russians have the Vympel R-37 M, which additionally has a spread of greater than 300km and a prime velocity of Mach 6.
In 2017, US Air Pressure Basic Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle cited the Chinese language missiles in a name for a brand new, longer-ranged missile that may enable the Air Pressure and Navy to “out-stick” the PL-15. That want drove the event by Lockheed Martin of the AIM-260. Scheduled to start testing in 2021, the AIM 260 is anticipated to enter service in 2022. Whereas it is going to be about the identical measurement because the AIM-120, it’ll have a considerably larger vary—a minimum of one matching that of the PL-15.
Itemizing picture by US AIr Pressure (Senior Airman Joshua Hopkins, 40th Flight Check Squadron)