by Allan Ng
Canadian Defence Procurement – December 2003
The CF18 Incremental Modernization Program – In Detail
Follow-Ons to the Engineering Change Proposal 583
Allan Ng reviews DND's CF18 fighter aircraft
modernization plan (Part 5)
AIM-120 AMRAAM — the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile 
The first weapon system to be procured as a follow-on element to ECP 583 will be the AIM-120 AMRAAM
(the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile). The AIM-120 AMRAAM (aka the SLAMMER
in US slang) is the most sophisticated, combat-proven, medium-range air-to-air missile (AAM)
in the western arsenal.
[ Ed: also see US
Foreign Military Sales Notice for the AIM-120C AMRAAM.]
Out with the Old — the AIM-7
The AMRAAM is also the first medium– ranged AAM to provide a fire-and-forget capability. One of the greatest
criticisms of the currently-serving AIM-7 Sparrow
medium-range AAM is that the launching aircraft must continue to fly towards the intended target (the
launch aircraft must constantly 'illuminate' a target with radar until the Sparrow AAM
intercepts). This unfortunate characteristic tends to nullify much of the advantage of the medium- range AAM.
Because the launch aircraft is forced to fly much closer to its target than the Sparrow's range
suggests, it becomes conceivable that targeted aircraft could retaliate with short-range, infrared-guided
missiles before being destroyed.
The SLAMMER Advantage
The AIM-120 overcomes this tactical disadvantage. Before launching an AMRAAM, target data is
downloaded — via the MIL-STD-1760 link — to the
AIM-120's memory. After the AIM-120 is launched, the firing aircraft continues to track the target so that
it can provide a mid-course target update to the missile. As it closes on its target, the AIM-120's
own active radar takes over providing all guidance information until the target is intercepted.
Increasing the AAM's post-launch independance has several advantages. First, full tactical use is
made of a missile's range. Second, freed from the need to track the target until interception, the
launching aircraft can manoeuvre, taking evasive action for example. Launching aircraft can also move on to
further victims – the combined capabilities of the APG-73 radar and the AIM-120 now make it possible for an upgraded Hornet to engage
multiple enemy targets simultaneously.
This new ability was demonstrated in a successful one-versus-four simultaneous engagement using four
AMRAAM missiles in May of 1990. More importantly, the AIM-120 has been employed successfully in air
combat over Iraq and the Balkans (Bosnia and Kosovo). In the spring of 2003, DND announced that it
will procure the AIM-120C AMRAAM for the CF18. The first deliveries of CF AIM-120Cs are
expected in mid 2004. The AMRAAM will provide the CF18 with a dramatic gain in medium range air-to-air
capability, putting the CF on-par with any other air force.
 For more on the AIM-120 AMRAAM , see the Raytheon website.