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US Air Force completes first live-fire of upgraded AIM-120D3 missile

F-15E with upgraded AMRAAM AIM-120D3 missile
An F-15E Strike Eagle taxis in preparation for a live-fire mission where the crew will launch an AIM-120D3 using production missile hardware developed under the AMRAAM Form, Fit, Function Refresh program. Photo: US Air Force

A US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle from the 53rd Wing executed the first-ever guided launch of the AIM-120D3 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile at Eglin Air Force base on June 30, successfully engaging a QF-16 full-scale aerial target.

The 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron and 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron’s test effort was to execute a long-range shot that physically stressed the new missile hardware and verified missile performance capabilities.

The AMRAAM F3R is a comprehensive hardware system redesign impacting 15 circuit card assemblies replacing early 2000s technology components.

The AIM-120D3 combines system improvement program 3F software updates with F3R hardware. Under the F3R program, engineers used model-based systems engineering initiatives and other digital technologies to upgrade multiple circuit cards and hardware into the guidance section of the missile and to re-host legacy software in the AIM-120D3 and AIM-120C8 AMRAAMs.

“Successful execution proves the redesigned hardware and software are progressing as expected and puts us one step closer to fielding a reliable, sustainable air-to-air capability to the warfighter,” said Maj. Heath Honaker, 28th TES director of engineering and advanced programs.

In the months preceding the launch, the test team conducted several captive-carry test missions with AIM-120D3 instrumented test vehicles to collect data and ensure the new missile hardware and software functioned correctly.

“F3R is critical to enabling high-confidence AIM-120D production from 2022 through the remainder of the missile life-cycle,” said Honaker.

Completion of the live-fire event required close coordination between Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) Air Dominance Division, 96th Test Wing, 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, Boeing and Raytheon Missiles & Defense personnel to ensure the aircraft, missile, airborne targets, and Eglin range safety and data collection systems were ready. The result was an effective live-fire test that met all objectives.

This launch is the first of five combined Air Force and Navy live-fires scheduled for the AMRAAM F3R program.