U.S. Navy Confirms Deployment of Air-Launched SM-6 Missile on F/A-18 Super Hornet

World Defense

U.S. Navy Confirms Deployment of Air-Launched SM-6 Missile on F/A-18 Super Hornet

This week, during the RIMPAC 2024 exercises, the U.S. Navy confirmed a significant advancement in its missile capabilities: the air-launched variant of the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6). This revelation came as F/A-18E/F Super Hornets showcased the adapted missile, making what was once a shadowy development a matter of public record.

The air-launched SM-6 was first glimpsed in 2021 on a VX-31 Test and Evaluation F/A-18F, sparking interest in a then-secret U.S. Navy program aimed at integrating this missile onto the Super Hornet. Earlier this year, further tests were conducted by the VX-9 Test and Evaluation squadron, bolstering the effort to arm the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18E/F fleet with the SM-6.

A notable sighting this week involved a VX-9 ‘Vampires’ F/A-18 Super Hornet carrying an inert RIM-174 Standard Missile 6 (SM-6), captured by an aviation enthusiast and shared widely on social media. This sighting coincided with an official confirmation from the U.S. Navy about the operational status of the air-launched SM-6, now referred to as the SM-6 Air Launched Configuration (ALC).

According to a U.S. Navy spokesperson, “The SM-6 Air Launched Configuration (ALC) was developed as part of the SM-6 family of missiles and is operationally deployed in the Navy today.” This marks the first official acknowledgment of the air-launched variant's existence and deployment status, which had previously been limited to inert and training versions.

The SM-6 ALC, also known as AIM-174, is designed for air-to-air purposes, expanding the U.S. Navy’s capabilities in beyond-visual-range air combat. This development places the U.S. Navy alongside other global powers fielding advanced long-range air-to-air missiles, such as Europe’s Meteor, Russia’s R-37M, and China’s PL-15 and PL-21.

The operational deployment of the AIM-174 is believed to be in its Initial Operating Capability (IOC) phase, with the CVW-2 Advanced Air Wing’s Super Hornet squadrons attached to the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). This deployment is a separate effort from the U.S. Air Force and Navy's procurement of the AIM-260 JATM missile, which remains under tight wraps due to its status as a Special Access Program (SAP).

As the USS Carl Vinson sails towards the RIMPAC 2024 exercise, the integration of the SM-6 ALC is poised to enhance the U.S. Navy’s combat readiness. RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime exercise, features participation from 29 nations, 40 surface ships, three submarines, 14 national land forces, over 150 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel. This year’s exercise, running from June 27 to August 1, provides a unique opportunity for the U.S. Navy to demonstrate and refine its new missile capabilities in a highly collaborative environment.

The U.S. Navy has not commented on the possibility of live-fire demonstrations of the AIM-174B during RIMPAC, but given the public nature of the event, further details and images are likely to emerge. This milestone represents a significant step forward in the U.S. Navy’s missile technology, enhancing its ability to maintain air superiority and secure maritime operations.

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