Lockheed Martin has embarked on a significant initiative to integrate the AGM-88G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range (AARGM-ER), developed by Northrop Grumman, with all three variants of the F-35 stealth fighter. This integration, made possible by a Pentagon contract worth over $97 million, is a major step in advancing the capabilities of the F-35, a fifth-generation combat aircraft.
The AGM-88G AARGM-ER missile is a highly advanced weapon designed for suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD). It boasts capabilities such as striking anti-aircraft and missile systems, GPS jamming systems, and anti-satellite systems, particularly in environments with heavy anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) defenses. Compared to its predecessor, the AGM-88E AARGM, the AARGM-ER features a new propulsion assembly and improved warhead, along with a sophisticated guidance system that includes a passive radar signal receiver, satellite navigation, and millimeter-wave radar. This enhancement effectively doubles its range to approximately 220-250 km and increases its maximum speed.
Historically, the development of the AARGM-ER began with a US Navy commission to Northrop Grumman in 2018, followed by the USAF’s collaboration in 2019. Modifications to the F-35’s internal weapon bays to accommodate the AARGM-ER were initiated in 2019 and completed by July 2022, under a contract awarded to Lockheed Martin. This integration work is overseen by the PMA-242 office of the Department of Defense.
The significance of this integration extends beyond the technological advancements. It reflects a strategic response to evolving defense needs in a geopolitical context, particularly considering recent global events and shifts in military strategy. The F-35, equipped with the AARGM-ER, is expected to play a crucial role in future conflicts, enhancing its survivability and efficiency against technologically advanced adversaries.
Moreover, the integration of the AARGM-ER into the F-35 is not limited to the US armed forces alone. The upgrade will also benefit allied nations, including Australia, Canada, the UK, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, and Denmark, under the foreign military sales framework. This move signifies a united effort in bolstering the capabilities of allied air forces, particularly in SEAD operations.
In essence, the integration of the AGM-88G AARGM-ER into the F-35 represents a strategic advancement in air combat capabilities, addressing both current and future defense needs in a complex global landscape. It underscores the Pentagon’s commitment to maintaining air superiority and highlights the importance of collaboration among allied nations in developing sophisticated defense systems.
By Katerina Urbanová, ACE
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin