The U.S. Navy has unveiled the AIM-174B, an air-launched variant of the versatile SM-6 missile, at the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise.

The AIM-174B, previously shrouded in mystery, has been spotted on U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters during RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

This missile is designed as a very long-range air-to-air missile, capable of engaging high-priority ground targets, such as air defence sites and warships, functioning in a quasi-ballistic manner.

Photographs from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, show an F/A-18E from Strike Fighter Squadron 192 (VFA-192), the “Golden Dragons,” equipped with a pair of AIM-174B missiles in training-round form. The unit is currently deployed as part of Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). Another Super Hornet from VFA-2 “Bounty Hunters,” also attached to CVW-2, was seen carrying a pair of these missiles, modified for special tests.

The AIM-174B benefits from the altitude and speed of the launching aircraft, providing a significant range advantage over the surface-launched SM-6, which has a range of approximately 230 miles. The air-launched version is expected to exceed this, potentially reaching hundreds of miles in air-to-air engagements.

The AIM-174B retains the surface strike capability of the SM-6, making it useful for targeting large maritime vessels, such as the decommissioned USS Tarawa, likely to be sunk off the coast of Hawaii during the exercise.

The combination of the Super Hornet and AIM-174B missile was first seen three years ago, but it has never been officially acknowledged by the Navy. Recent sightings of the missile on operational fleet aircraft indicate that this capability is maturing.

The surface-launched SM-6 was originally designed to counter long-range aerial threats and ballistic missiles in their terminal stages of flight. It also has capabilities against hypersonic weapons. The AIM-174B’s potential to target high-value ground and sea assets adds substantial value, positioning it in the quasi-ballistic missile category, which is increasingly relevant in air-launched weaponry.

The SM-6 is networked, capable of receiving targeting data from various platforms, including the F-35 stealth fighter, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, and Aegis-equipped warships. This networked approach allows the Super Hornet to engage targets beyond its radar range, enhancing its combat capabilities significantly.

The AIM-174B provides the Super Hornet with the ability to engage various aerial threats at distances far beyond the current AIM-120 AMRAAM and likely beyond the still-in-development AIM-260 JATM. This capability is crucial for maintaining air superiority in contested environments, particularly against China’s long-range air-to-air missiles.

Against ground or maritime targets, the AIM-174B offers the Super Hornet a means of striking over considerable distances with a weapon that is difficult to intercept. It’s high speed and manoeuvrability make it effective against fortified targets.

While the AIM-174B could be used as a training surrogate to emulate adversary capabilities, its designation and the secrecy surrounding the programme suggest it is an operational weapon. These capabilities are highly relevant to potential future conflicts in the Pacific, expected to be dominated by long-range ‘kill chains.’

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Lisa has a degree in Media & Communication from Glasgow Caledonian University and works with industry news, sifting through press releases in addition to moderating website comments.
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Jim
Jim (@guest_832664)
13 days ago

And here I thought it was just the MOD that Heath Robinson worked for.

This shows the length American defence contractors will go to to stop the Pentagon buying Meteor 😀

Last edited 13 days ago by Jim
Tomartyr
Tomartyr (@guest_832682)
13 days ago
Reply to  Jim

I’d bet good money Meteor won’t be integrated onto F35 until after a Made in America equivalent is integrated

Jim
Jim (@guest_832695)
13 days ago
Reply to  Tomartyr

I would imagine it will all happen about the same time once the software is finished.

I don’t see any willingness to piss off customers by LM, it’s just incompetence on their part.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky (@guest_832712)
13 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Mostly I think far too much expected from what is now a very dated conceptual approach (90s in reality) to software/hardware platform design and subsequent learning on the job. It sniffs of Horizon tbh when you are committed to re appraising and developing what you have rather than starting again with fresh more advanced eyes and understanding. We are promised with Gen 5.5 or 6 projects it will be very different due to modular approaches and the ‘sandboxed’ separation of weapon and aircraft flight systems/sensors which is the major block to introducing new weapons it seems as the latter needs… Read more »

Patrick C
Patrick C (@guest_832704)
13 days ago
Reply to  Tomartyr

AIM-260 is more than likely already in service. I don’t think they plan to export it so they aren’t worried about meteor competing with it. SM-6 air launch has been operational for years, they didn’t admit it until now. I don’t think meteor ever interested them as it doesn’t offer near the performance leap over the AIM-120D3 as the aim-260 does.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky (@guest_832705)
13 days ago
Reply to  Tomartyr

That will be the AIM-260 which will out range the Meteor so let’s see if it gets on F-35 before Meteor and no doubt restrict its sales on F-35. As for the AIM-174B it seems like an awesome missile which if as good as advertised starts to ask questions over our future plans with various missiles being preferred to do what it seems to do (at first glance at least) in one missile. As if the SM-6 didn’t seem to be a great all round missile in the first place. Will be interested to see if the specs when able… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB (@guest_832831)
12 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

The best way to think of SM-6 (AIM-174) is to think of it as the bigger brother of the AMRAAM. The airframe is much wider and longer, but it uses the same radar and guidance system. Although the radar antenna has a wider diameter over the one fitted to AMRAAM due to the additional space available. The other benefit over AMRAAM is that SM-6 has an integrated inertial nav and GPS system. Thereby allowing to be used against ground targets. I know there has been an ask by the MoD to exploit the current legacy missiles, used by the RAF,… Read more »

Netking
Netking (@guest_832726)
13 days ago
Reply to  Jim

I think the long delay in meteor integration is a combination of a lack of funding by the mod and the long delays in the block 4 software which is screwing everyone over including the US. With regards to this new missile, I think this addresses a different target set from the meteor. This is aimed squarely at the enablers such as awacs, tankers and most importantly air launched ballistic missile carrying aircraft such as the Russian Tu-22 and the Chinese H-6. If this weapon is being guided by an offboard radar like that of the f-35, pilots of these… Read more »

SailorBoy
SailorBoy (@guest_832824)
12 days ago
Reply to  Netking

Could we not produce a missile with similar parameters using Meteor? Images for AIM-260 seem to use a very large and powerful first stage booster propelling a maneuverable second stage to near-hypersonic speeds. Meteor is not large for a missile of that class, being only 3.6m long (AIM-174 is 6m long) Surely it would not be difficult to add a 1- or 1.5m long extra booster to the back of Meteor. This would accelerate it to well over Mach 4, and perhaps even more, so that the ramjet can maintain that speed all of the way to the target 200… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB (@guest_832909)
12 days ago
Reply to  SailorBoy

Yes, to a point. Similarly using the Aster in a similar way, would not gain a significant benefit over Meteor. As they are both a similar size dimensionally. If anything the standard Meteor will still have the range and time to target advantage due to its ramjet engine. Even if Aster’s motor was changed to a dual pulse one. There are two variants of SM6, the Block 1A and the Block 1B. The Block 1A has a body diameter of 13.5” (34cm), whilst the much newer Block 1B is 21” (53cm) in diameter, compared to Meteor’s 7” (17.8cm). Therefore it… Read more »

DanielMorgan
DanielMorgan (@guest_832782)
12 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Ah yes, American defense contractors number one priority is stopping the sale of Meteor to the Pentagon. And preventing MREs from including Marmite instead of Tabasco.

Jim
Jim (@guest_832799)
12 days ago
Reply to  DanielMorgan

There is no evil they are unwilling to inflict on the world in pursuit of profit 😀

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_833184)
11 days ago
Reply to  DanielMorgan

I think the German’s also want to integrate the Meteor onto their newly ordered F35-A’s. Surely amongst allies too, can’t they get this issue sorted pronto?

Ron
Ron (@guest_832706)
13 days ago

Intresting idea. I suppose that in the air to air role the AIM-174 would be used to take out AEW aircraft, tanker aircraft and incoming bombers. In the anti missile role, in theory it could work but how many AIM-174s can a F-18 carry if its two then would it make sense. The RIM-174 in its naval version is a heavy missile so I cannot see the possibility of a F18 carrying more than four AIM-174s which again indicates to me that it will not be used in the anti missile role but in the role of taking out the… Read more »

Patrick C
Patrick C (@guest_832729)
13 days ago
Reply to  Ron

the RIM-174 doubles as an anti-ship/anti-ground missile as well.

Oscar Zulu
Oscar Zulu (@guest_832780)
12 days ago
Reply to  Patrick C

Interesting and logical option for the RAAF’s Super Hornets that could greatly increase that platform’s strategic utility. RAAF Super Hornets are already being used as test beds on Australian weapons ranges for the USAF’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) and could also play a role in AIM 174 testing and development. The RAAF already uses the SHs in a maritime strike role (air launched Harpoons) but the AIM 174 would provide a long range supersonic anti ship option above and beyond the planned RAAF Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and LRASM acquisition both of which are subsonic. Given the RAN is… Read more »

Rowan Maguire
Rowan Maguire (@guest_832759)
13 days ago
Reply to  Ron

One of the F-18 sighted with the missile was carrying two AIM-74s on the inboard pylons and two AIM-120s on the outer. The SM-6 weighs about 1.5 tons, I’m not sure if that includes the booster which is removed on the air launched version so it’s possibly lighter. I’d imagine for carrier launching they’ll carry no more than 2 but they could in theory carry up to 5.

Oscar Zulu
Oscar Zulu (@guest_832777)
12 days ago
Reply to  Ron

A typical strike package (Chinese or Western alliance) tends to have no more than one AWACS and one or two tankers.

A single SH with four ultra long range missiles is likely able to cripple any CAP or strike packages effectiveness by taking out all its high value enablers.

Jim
Jim (@guest_832804)
12 days ago
Reply to  Oscar Zulu

Suddenly helicopter AEW don’t seem so bad 😀

Jim
Jim (@guest_832800)
12 days ago
Reply to  Ron

It could probably take the AEW aircraft out on the tarmac at that range 😀