U.S. Military Weapons Systems, Part I
Since my last foray into describing new kinds of new military technology was somewhat popular, I figured I’d look in to systems already deployed by the U.S. military. I have first hand knowledge of the capabilities of some of the systems I’ll be discussing here, so I hope it will be interesting to our 6 or 7 regular readers. This first part will delve into some of the missile systems presently being used. Not all systems in use will covered here, but this should give a general overview of what is presently deployed.
Air to Air Missiles (AIM or Air Intercept Missile)
-- AIM-120 or AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile)
Designated as the Scorpion, but better known as the Slammer, the AMRAAM is what as known as a ‘fire-and-forget’ missile, capable of tracking and destroying airborne targets beyond 20 nautical miles range. Carrying its own radar transmitter, it will lock on to a target and track it even after the aircraft launching it has turned away to engage other enemy aircraft. This means that the launching aircraft can engage multiple targets simultaneously.
U.S Air Force, Navy, and Marine fighter/attack aircraft carry AMRAAM, including the F-15, F-16, and F-22 for the Air Force, the F-14D and F-18 for the Navy, and the F/A-18 for the Marines.
This was the last weapons system I worked on before leaving the defense industry.
-- AIM-7M/P or Sparrow
The Sparrow has a long history with the U.S. military as well as its NATO allies. It is a semi-active (or beam riding) radar guided medium range air to air missile. I worked on four different variants of Sparrow while employed by Raytheon – 7E (it used vacuum tubes!), 7F (the first solid state electronics version), 7M (the first to use an onboard digital computer for advanced capabilities), and 7P (not much different from 7M except that the software for the computer could be updated in the field, as well as adding some new capabilities). There was one other version of the AIM-7, the 7R. The 7R was a dual mode missile, meaning that it used both radar guidance and infrared tracking for terminal guidance. Though I had little connection with that program, I was aware of its existence. The 7R program was cancelled in 1997 as it was seen as redundant in light of the AIM-120 deployment.
The Sparrow is carried by the F-15, F-16, F-14, F-18, and F/A-18.
There were also two ground-launched variants of AIM-7 – SeaSparrow (RIM-7) and Sparrow Hawk.
The SeaSparrow variant is launched from ships and can be used for ship-to-air engagements against anti-ship missiles or enemy aircraft. The SeaSparrow is housed in a box launcher and uses folding fins that extend once the missile exits the launch canister.
The Sparrow Hawk variant used the Hawk Surface-to-Air missile launchers tied in with the Hawk ground radar tracking system. Though never deployed, it gave the Hawk system some additional capabilities.
-- AIM-9 or Sidewinder
In service since 1956, the Sidewinder has been a primary air to air offensive and defensive weapon for the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. It is a heat seeking short range missile capable of all aspect target lock on, meaning it can acquire a target from behind, ahead, above, below, or from the side. Its short range makes it useful in ACM (Air Combat Maneuvering) environments, or dogfighting.
There have been many variants since 1956, however the only operational versions are the AIM-9M and 9M-9. The 9M has advanced infrared countermeasure detection capability, meaning it is more difficult to spoof using flares or other heat source decoys. It also has advanced background discrimination capability and a reduced smoke rocket motor. These modifications give the missile better target locate and lock-on abilities while decreasing the chance of being detected by enemy aircraft while in flight.
The Sidewinder also employs an Advanced Optical Target Detector (AOTD) for fuzing the warhead. The AOTD uses lasers for target ranging and triggers the warhead when the missile is within optimal range for target destruction.
Surface To Air Missiles (SAMs)
Patriot became famous during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The Patriot is capable of engaging multiple targets simultaneously. Though designed primarily as an antiaircraft missile battery system, the Patriot was used to shoot down incoming SCUD tactical ballistic missiles fired by Iraq in to Saudi Arabia and Israel. Though it was never conceived as an antimissile defense system, its performance in the Gulf was nothing less than fantastic. Despite the controversy about the number of SCUDs destroyed, the fact that the system was able to engage the incoming missiles at all was incredible.
Upgrades to the Patriot system (PAC-3) have included new and better target discrimination systems, allowing better antimissile intercepts.
The Patriot Missile battery consists of a phased array radar (part of the Patriot system I worked with), an engagement control station, computers, power generating equipment, and up to eight launchers, each of which holds four ready-to-fire missiles. There are about 90 soldiers assigned to a battery, but three soldiers in the engagement control station are the only personnel required to operate the battery in combat.
-- Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
Deployed as an adjunct to other theater air defense systems like Patriot PAC-3, THAAD uses a hit-to-kill warhead designed to destroy tactical ballistic missiles. It is capable of protecting population centers, though its primary purpose is to defend dispersed military forces.
The THAAD system consists of four primary components – truck mounted launchers, interceptors, the THAAD radar system, and the THAAD battle management /command and control.
-- RIM-67 Standard Missile 2 (SM-2)
The Standard Missile 2 is the U.S. Navy’s primary surface-to-air fleet defense weapon. It is an all-weather, ship-launched medium/extended range missile. SM-2 employs an electronic countermeasures-resistant receiver for semi-active radar terminal guidance and inertial midcourse guidance capable of receiving midcourse command updates from the shipboard fire control system. SM-2 is launched from the Mk 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) and the Mk 26 Guided Missile Launching System (GMLS). SM-2 continues to evolve to counter expanding threat capabilities, and improvements in advanced high and low-altitude threat interception, particularly in stressing electronic countermeasures (ECM) environments, are being implemented through modular changes to the missile sections.
It is capable of tracking and destroying incoming enemy aircraft, missiles, or surface ships.
Air to Ground Missiles (AGM or Air-to-Ground Missile)
-- AGM-114 Hellfire
The Hellfire missile is primarily used in its anti-tank/anti-armor role. Different versions have been deployed, but primarily it is the laser-guided version that has seen the most use. The Longbow variant is designed to be used in conjunction with the AH-64 Apache Longbow and incorporates an optional radar/IR seeker, giving it a ‘fire-and-forget’ capability. The Hellfire can be launched from helicopters, fixed wing aircraft including UAV’s like the Predator, and from ships.
A Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone was responsible for taking out a high-ranking Al Qaida chief in Yemen earlier this month.
The more advanced variant of the Hellfire missile includes dual warheads designed to defeat reactive armor, making it one of the best anti-armor missiles in any military arsenal.
-- AGM-65 Maverick
The Maverick is designed for close air support, interdiction and antiaircraft suppression. It can hit a wide range of targets including armor, air defenses, ships, transportation equipment, fuel depots, and other targets. The Maverick saw action in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Over 57,000 were used over the course of the war and over 85% of them hit their targets.
There are three versions of the Maverick – electro-optical (i.e. TV guided), infrared imaging, and laser guided. The warhead is located in the center section of the missile body and is cone-shaped. There are two warhead variants used – a standard cone-shaped warhead triggered by a contact fuze in the nose of the missile, or a heavy penetrating warhead using a delayed action fuze to allow the warhead to penetrate the target using its kinetic energy before detonation.
The Maverick can be carried by the A-10 Warthog, F-15E Strike Eagle, and F-16 Falcon. During the Gulf War, A-10 pilots used the infrared imaging Maverick slung under their wings as a poor man’s FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) system, giving them night attack capabilities the A-10 doesn’t usually have.
-- AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Antiradiation Missile)
The HARM is designed to detect, track, and destroy enemy ground radar systems. This can include SAM missile and antiaircraft artillery (AAA) radar and other elements of integrated air defense radar systems. Though not considered a smart weapon and incapable to differentiating between friend and foe, the HARM is still a highly effective weapon. The F/A18, A-6E, F-4G, and F-16 aircraft can carry the HARM. HARM is used primarily by Wild Weasel antiaircraft suppression squadrons whose mission is to take out enemy antiaircraft capabilities, making easier for follow-on strike aircraft to reach their targets without worrying about enemy SAM’s and AAA.
Man-Portable/High Mobility Missiles
-- FIM-92A Stinger Missile
The Stinger is a short range heat seeking air defense missile capable of protecting ground forces from low flying fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise missiles. Originally designed to be fired from a shoulder launcher, it can also be launched from Bradley Fighting Vehicles and HMMWV Hummers. It also has short range air to air capabilities when mounted on Kiowa and Apache helicopters.
The effectiveness of the Stinger missile was well demonstrated in Afghanistan when the U.S. supplied them to the Afghan Mujahadeen fighting against the occupying Soviet forces in the 1980’s. The Stingers greatly changed the battlefield tactics used by the Soviets by denying them use of aircraft and helicopters for close air support of ground troops and armored units.
-- BGM-71 TOW Missile
The TOW, or Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missile is an anti-tank system capable of penetrating up to 30 inches of armor at a range of more than 3000 meters, meaning it can take out just about any modern era tank. It is considered one of the most lethal short-range antiarmor weapons in the U.S. arsenal. It can be launched by a single infantryman using a tripod mounted launch tube, or from launch tubes mounted on vehicles and helicopters.
Because it is optically guided, the operator must keep the crosshairs of the sighting mechanism on the target. As long as the operator can see the target, he can hit the target. Advanced sights allowing use in low light or inclement weather have extended the combat capabilities of the TOW.
There are a number of variants in service, and newer ‘fire-and-forget’ versions are scheduled for deployment in 2005.
Part 2 will deal give an overview of some of the aircraft presently being used by the U.S. armed forces.