Air Force Is Eyeing a Next-Gen Ground-Attack Missile for the F-35

Next-Gen Ground-Attack Missile for the F-35: The three companies will compete for the new stand-in attack weapon.

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The Air Force has announced a three-way competition to build the service’s new Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW). The SiAW will be a relatively short-range weapon designed to hit targets on the ground.

The weapon will replace old surface-to-air missiles that cannot carry F-35s.

The US Air Force has contracted three defense companies to develop a new, short-range surface-to-air missile. The Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW) will be able to hit enemy ground targets while inside the enemy’s air defense, ballistic missiles, surface-to-air missiles and other key targets can be targeted. The stand-in attack weapon will be a real next-generation system, replacing the old, slow-moving missiles that use the latest technology.

According to Defense News reports, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and L3Harris are competing for the SiAW. Each company will receive 2 million to begin development, with the purchase of the first missiles in service 2023.

Modern warfare in the 21st century has divided air-to-ground weapons into two categories: those launched from a distance outside the enemy’s air defense network, and those launched from within the network itself. Go Weapons launched from afar are called stand-off weapons. Less stealth, less survivable aircraft – such as the B-52 Stratofortress, F-15 Eagle, and F-16 Fighting Falcon – typically use stand-off weapons. They still allow older aircraft to play their part in air / ground combat, all of which secretly free the aircraft to do more dangerous work.

F-35s, in particular, will use standing weapons while operating inside the enemy’s air defense envelope, where any mistake could put it at risk of being shot down. The SiAW F-35 will allow pilots to quickly hit targets on the ground with high-speed missiles, before the target moves away from the missile or moves elsewhere.

In the past, standing weapons were bombs, unmanned rockets, and airplane guns. As missile technology became dominant, it gave way to missiles such as the AGM-65 Maverick (pictured above). The F-35 does not currently have a stand-in weapon, unless it counts guided bombs, such as the Paveway Laser Guided Bomb and the Joint Directed Attack Monation (JDAM) GPS-guided bomb. Although short-range and highly accurate, both are free fall weapons and are no more than Mach 1.

Air Force Is Eyeing a Next-Gen Ground-Attack Missile for the F-35

Stealth aircraft such as the F-35 will infiltrate enemy airspace, defended by advanced surface-to-air missile systems such as the Russian Book and the Chinese HQ-9. Air defense missile batteries require both simpler and faster missiles to hit when they are threatened, in order to shut them off immediately. Another target of SiAW is mobile ballistic missile launchers, whose mobility and ability to launch nuclear weapons make them an immediate target.

The Air Force wants SiAW to pug back the technology developed for the new Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile-Extended Range (AARGM-ER) missile. The AARGM-ER, with its pirate-sounding name, is better than previous AARGM and HARM anti-radar missiles. The anti-radiation missiles are designed to accelerate – by the enemy’s air defense radar before it shuts itself down – and the Air Force wants this technology for SiAW.

According to Jeans, AARGM’s official speed is Mach 2+ and range 60 miles, while The Aviationist blog says that AARGM-ER, with its new rocket motor, is twice the speed and range. SiAW does not necessarily require a range of 120 miles, but Mach-4 speeds will be very useful for engaging enemy radars and missiles. Other ARRGM-ER features that can make it into SiAW are a new satellite and inertial navigation system, a last-minute navigation radar finder, and the ability to send target images via a data link.

The Air Force will buy thousands of SiAWs to equip 1,763 F-35s as the Air Force buys over the next decade and a half. A promotional video for Lockheed Martin (above) shows a fighter jet being flown up to six SiAWs, while the plane is carrying air-to-air missiles for defensive weapons. A more realistic loadout could be four SiAWs carried out externally, and four AIM-120 AMRAAM surface-to-air missiles carried out internally. If stealth is required, an F-35A will be limited to only one SIAW to be carried in one internal weapons bay and two AMRAAMs in the other.

SiAW will clearly fill a gap in the F-35’s capabilities, hitting time-critical targets at speeds in excess of 3,000 miles per hour. Developing technology with pre-existing weapons will make it easier, cheaper and faster. It also needs a new, distinctly pirate-sounding name as AARGM technology moves into missiles with a wider mission set. “Cutlass” sounds great.


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