Next-Gen Air-to-Air Missile to Enter Production This Year: USAF Secretary

The secretive AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile (JATM) could enter production this year, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month.

“We’re entering production, hopefully, for JATM, the new air-to-air missile,” Air and Space Forces Magazine quoted Kendall as saying at the Congressional hearing. 

“And we’re going to be asking for funds to increase the size of that production line [and] increase capacity of our production line from what we originally had planned.”

To Counter China’s PL-15

The US Air Force began developing the beyond-visual-range missile in 2017 to counter the Chinese PL-15, which has a greater range than the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) by over 100 kilometers (67 miles).

The JATM features a longer range than the AMRAAM’s 160 kilometers (99 miles) and a multi-mode seeker. It was originally scheduled to achieve initial operational capability by 2022. 

The Lockheed Martin missile will first be fitted on the US Air Force F-22 fighter and eventually with Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft.

To Arm Next-Gen Drone, Aircraft

Kendall revealed that the missile would also be fitted on the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) — the drone wingman expected to fly alongside current and next-generation fighter aircraft for reconnaissance, electronic warfare missions, or as a decoy to draw enemy fire.

The air force plans to acquire at least 1,000 CCAs and 200 sixth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the Next Generation Air Dominance program, he announced earlier this year. 

Kendall revealed that two CCAs, expected to enter service at the end of this decade, will fly alongside a single sixth-generation aircraft, adding that the unmanned aircraft will also be paired with around 300 F-35s.

MQ-28A Ghost Bat
The MQ-28A Ghost Bat could reportedly serve as a testbed for the Collaborative Combat Aircraft program. Photo: Australia Department of Defence

Extra Funds Requested for AMRAAM

Meanwhile, the air force has requested additional funding of $1.5 billion in 2024 to procure more AMRAAMs and AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles. 

Kendal said that the extra funding “will help facilitate … [and] increase the production rate, not only for AMRAAM” but JATM as well.

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