US completes second live fire AIM-120D-3 missile test

The Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) joint program office has completed the second live fire test of the new AIM-120D-3 variant of the missile family, which incorporated upgraded hardware in its guidance section.

This second test occurred over the Point Mugu Sea Test Range in California on May 12 and was announced by US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) a day later. During this test, the new missile variant was safely launched from a US Navy-operated Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet and flew along an expected flight path over the test range.

F/A-18F Super Hornet AIM-120D-3 Test Launch [US Navy]
A US Navy-operated Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet conducts the second live test firing of an AIM-120D-3 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) over the Point Mugu Sea Test Range, California, on May 12, 2021. US Navy

The aim was to test the munition’s safe separation autopilot and free-flight navigation capabilities after being launched from a carrier aircraft, which in this case was the F/A-18F. Preliminary analysis provided by Raytheon Missiles & Defense – the munition’s prime contractor – showed that all of the primary and secondary objectives of the test were met.

Col Sean Bradley, AMRAAM Senior Materiel Leader at the US Air Force’s Armament Directorate, said: “Completing the first two free flight shots of upgraded hardware and software is a significant milestone in the integration and test phase of the new AIM-120D-3 missile. These successes are important to the overall execution of the Form, Fit, Function, Refresh (F3R) programme; a programme implemented to address an increasing number of production challenges due to [the] obsolescence of various electronic components within the AIM-120.”

This second live fire test comes just a few months after the AMRAAM joint program office completed the first, which took place on December 9, 2020. These developmental test flights help to provide crucial data, allowing the contractors and military services involved to assess the munition’s ability to acquire, track and guide onto targets.

NAVAIR states that with its combined hardware and software upgrades, the “AIM-120D-3 will deliver advanced capabilities to improve missile effectiveness against advanced threats for air force, navy and allied partners.” Production deliveries of the new missile variant are scheduled to begin in 2023.