Gearhead News

May 22, 2021
Land-Based Strike Version Of Navy's Long-Range Air Defense Blasting Missile Breaks Cover

Northrop Grumman is developing a new derivative of its AGM-88G Advanced Anti-radiation Guided Missile-Extended Range, or AARGM-ER, designed specifically for surface-to-surface strikes against targets on land and at sea. The company says that the weapon leverages work it has already doing on both the AGM-88G, a U.S. Navy-led project, and a general air-to-surface derivative, the Stand-in Attack Weapon, or SiAW, which it is developing for the U.S. Air Force. It is also be designed with an eye toward being able to use a launch system installed inside a shipping container, a concept first unveiled for AARGM-ER three years ago that The War Zone
was first to report on

The Virginia-headquartered defense contractor included a product sheet on what it is presently calling the Advanced Reactive Strike Missile, or AReS, in the materials it released as part of the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC), which ended today. The National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) held this event virtually, for the second year in a row, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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A US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet with captive-carry AARGM-ER test article under its wing during a flight test.

This appears to be the first public mention of AReS, which comes four years after the Navy officially initiated the development of the AARGM-ER and three years after the SiAW program emerged publicly. The Navy plans to field the AARGM-ER on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler and it will also be able to fit inside the internal bays on the service’s F-35C Joint Strike Fighters. The Air Force’s F-35As are also set to carry AARGM-ER, as well as SiAW, internally.

From the very beginning, it has been clear that the AGM-88G’s design is highly modular and that this was a deliberate decision to support the development of additional variants and derivatives. Before AReS’ appearance, there had already been talk about an air-launched anti-ship missile based on the AARGM-ER.

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A briefing slide that offers a look at the internal components of the AARGM-ER, highlighting its modular design, and offering additional details about the weapon.

“Leveraging already fielded Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) technology, Northrop Grumman’s surface-to-surface strike weapon, AReS, is a natural continuance of the rapidly evolving AARGM family of weapons,” the marketing literature says. The missile is a “surface-launched extended range strike weapon for land and sea targets in complex A2/AD [anti-access/area denial] environment.”

The are no specific performance specifications given for the AReS in the product sheet, but Northrop Grumman says that it, like AARGM-ER and SiAW, will fly at supersonic speeds. The exact ranges of the AARGM-ER and the SiAW are also unknown, but are expected to be significantly greater than that of the existing AGM-88E Advanced Anti-radiation Guided Missile (AARGM), from which the AGM-88G itself is derived. The AGM-88E has a range of around 80 miles and hits Mach 2 during sprint toward the target in the terminal phase of flight, according to publicly available information.

The AReS brochure says that it will be capable of “employment beyond the range of enemy cruise missiles and integrated air defense systems,” which would indicate a maximum range of at least hundreds of miles. It’s not clear whether AReS will use one or more additional propulsion stages or additional rocket boosters to achieve that, but the marketing material does say that “utilization of existing booster(s) reduces integration risk.” Aviation Week‘s Defense Editor Steve Trimble Tweeted out that Northrop Grumman is looking at using a Mk 72 booster, which is presently used on variants of the Navy’s SM-3 and SM-6 missiles, or a Mk 135, found on the Tomahawk cruise missile, on the AReS together “with a new interstage.”

Northrop Grumman also says that AReS will feature an “advanced, multi-mode seeker,” but doesn’t offer any more details about that guidance package in the marketing literature. It would seem very likely the missile would heavily leverage the guidance options already being integrated onto the AARGM-ER and SiAW. The AGM-88G’s guidance section is identical to the one on the older AGM-88E and is capable of zeroing in on a target’s emissions or finding it, even if its in motion, using a millimeter-wave radar seeker. It can also simply hit a specific set of geographic coordinates using its GPS-assisted Inertial Navigation System (INS).

A two-way datalink will allow the weapon to receive targeting updates in flight to help improve its accuracy. This would also allow for retasking of the missile from one target to another. In addition, Northrop Grumman says the plan is for it to have a “cooperative weapon engagement” capability, which could mean using targeting information from offboard platforms. That, in turn, would allow the weapon to fired without the launch platform necessarily being able to “see” the target using any organic sensors.

The term “cooperative weapon engagement” has also been using in the context of networking munitions together into an autonomous swarm that is able to automatically shift its focus to any new, higher-priority targets that might suddenly emerge. The U.S. Air Force is already exploring exactly this kind of “networked collaborative weapon systems” concept as part of its Golden Horde program, which you can read more about here.

AReS will also feature a warhead with “enhanced lethality.” This would appear to be a reference to Northrop Grumman’s Lethality Enhanced Ordnance (LEO) technology, an advanced high-explosive blast-fragmentation concept suitable for use against a wide variety of target types, which you can read more about here. The brochure also says that the sheer kinetic force of the weapon impacting a target at supersonic speed will provide an additional destructive effect.

As for the launch platform, the artist’s conception of AReS that Northrop Grumman has now released shows it being fired from what appears to be a truck-mounted High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). This is a well-established launch system that can fire 227mm guided artillery rockets and the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missile, and is presently in service with the Army and the U.S. Marine Corps, among others. HIMARS will also be one of the main launch platforms for the Army’s future Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) ballistic missile.

“Significant firepower with the potential for up to 6 missiles per standard 40 ft ISO [shipping] container,” the Northrop Grumman product sheet also says. In 2018, the company had shown a model of a shipping container launch system for both the AARGM and AARGM-ER, with a nine-cell launcher. This containerized launcher, now reportedly known as the Modular Payload System, would offer significant additional flexibility, both in terms of what platforms, including ground vehicles and ships, could carry it, as well as how it might then be employed. As already noted, Northrop Grumman says that AReS is being designed with both land-attack and anti-ship capabilities, making it a very flexible weapon, to begin with.

Joseph Trevithick
A model depicting a launcher for the AGM-88G AARGM-ER missile installed inside a standard shipping container that Northrop Grumman first showed publicly in 2018. The company says that the new AReS derivative can also be employed from a similar container launch system.

With all this in mind, the product sheet does make clear that Northrop Grumman is actively pitching AReS to the U.S. Army. That service is looking to acquire and field an entirely new slate of longer-range ground-launched surface-to-surface missiles as it looks to better prepare itself for a higher-end conflict against a near-peer opponent, such as Russia or China. It has already announced that it will be evaluating a land-based Tomahawk cruise missile, as well as a ground-launched version of the U.S. Navy’s highly-capable multi-purpose SM-6 missile

AReS could certainly be another attractive choice for the Army. With the Navy and the Air Force, and the potentially the U.S. Marine Corps, already planning to adopt the AARGM-ER, and the Air Force’s SiAW derivative also on the way, the costs to develop, procure, and sustain these new ground-launched missiles could be appreciably lower than those associated with other designs with similar capabilities. This could also prompt interest from the Marines, who are also exploring new ground-based longer-range missile capabilities, and foreign customers.

The War Zone has already reached out to Northrop Grumman for additional information, but from what we know already, AReS does seem like a very logical evolution of the existing capabilities found within the AARGM-ER design, which already looks set to be a very impressive weapon. 

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com

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