Producing a Reliable Weapons
System: The Advanced Medium‐
Range Air-to-Air Missile
ROBERT S. GILMOUR AND ERIC MINKOFF
Throughout the Vietnam war, U.S. Air Force tactical fighter aircraft relied upon air-to-air missiles that had been developed by the U.S. Navy. As the fruit of that experience, both in Vietnam and in the NATO confrontation of Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces in Europe during the 1970s, internal Air Force demands became increasingly urgent for development of a faster, launch-and-leave-type missile capable of destroying the opposition's jet fighters in a serious dogfight. The Navy's Aim-7 Sparrow (radar-guided) and Sidewinder (infrared, or heat-seeking) missile systems—even if substantially upgraded—were believed by the Air Force to be inadequate for air warfare in the 1980s and 1990s.
By the mid- 1970s, the Air Force had developed plans for a smaller, more effective, and less expensive replacement for the radar-guided Sparrow missile system. As described in numerous briefings, the new Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) would enable jet fighter pilots to launch a lethal strike against multiple enemy aircraft targets at ranges of fifty miles and more (well "beyond visual range" of fifteen to twenty miles). AMRAAM would be, in Pentagon jargon, a "fire-and-forget" weapon. Once launched, AMRAAM's own radar would guide the missile to its target, leaving the pilot free to concentrate on additional targets with the remaining cluster of AMRAAM missiles (from a possible total of six) still in reserve. In essence, the Air Force proposed a powerful "force multiplier" for its jet fighter fleet.
Following a thirteen-month Air Force-Navy "threat" and "operational‐ requirement" assessment, the Defense Appropriations Act of 1977 (passed by Congress in July 1976) approved the initial development of a new ad