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Hughes AIM-120 AMRAAM

DAYTON, Ohio - The AIM-120 AMRAAM on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - The AIM-120 AMRAAM on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile is an all-weather "fire-and-forget" weapon designed to replace the AIM-7 Sparrow. The higher speed, greater range and improved maneuverability of AMRAAM have greatly increased its operational effectiveness over the Sparrow.

The joint Air Force-Navy AMRAAM program began with a 1975 study which recommended that future aerial threats be engaged at 3-40 miles of range. In 1981 Hughes was awarded a full-scale development contract for the new medium range missile after a competitive "fly-off" against Raytheon. The AIM-120 underwent a rigorous eight-year test program and was operational in 1991.

The AMRAAM weighs 340 pounds and uses an advanced solid-fuel rocket motor to achieve a speed of Mach 4 and a range in excess of 30 miles. In long-range engagements, AMRAAM heads for the target using inertial guidance and receives updated target information via data link from the launch aircraft. It transitions to a self-guiding terminal mode when the target is within range of its own monopulse radar set. The AIM-120 also has a "home-on-jam" guidance mode to counter electronic jamming. With its sophisticated avionics, high closing speed and excellent end-game maneuverability, chances of escape from AMRAAM are minimal. Upon intercept an active-radar proximity fuze detonates the 40-pound high-explosive warhead to destroy the target. At closer ranges AMRAAM guides itself all the way using its own radar, freeing the launch aircraft to engage other targets.

A small number of AMRAAMs were carried by F-15 aircraft during Operation Desert Storm, though none were used. The AIM-120 was redeployed to the Persian Gulf in 1992 for use on F-15 and F-16 fighters. In December 1992 an F-16 pilot fired the first AMRAAM in actual combat, shooting down a MiG-25 Foxbat during a confrontation over southern Iraq.

The AIM-120A on display was restored and donated by the Hughes Aircraft Co. and was received by the museum in April 1993.

Click here to return to the Cold War Gallery.

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