San Diego, Calif. -- The U.S. military needs a longer range AIM-120 to fully utilize the advances made by America's fifth generation fleet -- the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor, said one of Lockheed Martin's top test pilots.
The AIM-120 is an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile and America's premiere air-to-air weapon in the fleet. The latest model, the D-model, can fly Mach 4 with a range of about 180 kilometers or about 97 nautical miles. William Gigliotti, Lockheed Martin's lead test pilot at the Fort Worth site, said he wants to see that range extended to take advantage of the advanced radars inside the F-22 and F-35.
He highlighted the recent advances made by the Chinese and the range of their missile defenses and fighter aircraft.
"When we war game it out, that's the Achilles heel of the U.S. fighter fleet," Gigliotti said referring to the AIM-120 at a F-35 panel session at a Navy conference here. Two other Navy F-35 pilots and one Marine Corps F-35 aviator, who also sat on the panel, agreed with Gigliotti.
Gigliotti didn't challenge the U.S. military to develop an improved variant. He instead challenged the defense industry to start developing one now.
Of course, the Air Force and Navy are in the last stages of operational testing for the AIM-120 D model. Most aircraft are equipped with the AIM-120C3-C7 variants.
Operational testing on the D-model was delayed when the Pentagon halted the program in 2009 to allow Raytheon, the lead contractor, to address four performance and reliability deficiencies. The program was restarted in 2012, but was then again delayed because of sequestration funding levels.
Besides the F-35 and the F-22, the AIM-120 is also carried by the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18 along with other fighters.