A first-of-its-kind experimental firing test was successfully conducted by the Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office of the Air Force Research Laboratory earlier this week.

The firing experiment was part of the air defense bolstering initiative in the US, which resulted in a “key breakthrough” involving three types of powerful missiles fired in a single open-architecture National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS).

NASAMS, also known as Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System, is the world’s first operational net-centric architecture capable of short- to medium-range ground-based air defense systems developed by Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace (KDA) and Raytheon. It features multiple simultaneous engagements and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) and is, by nature, a highly mobile system designed to focus on operational flexibility to protect Air Bases, Sea Ports, Populated Areas, and other valuable areas and assets of the armed forces.

Raytheon Missile & Defense announced the success of the layered test in a press release using AIM-9X, AMRAAM, and AMRAAM-Extended Range missiles, demonstrating how NASAMS could protect air bases against cruise missiles of varying ranges.

“We demonstrated how integrated defense solutions enable the warfighter to deploy the right effector at the right time and at the right target,” said Wes Kremer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense. “Using fielded systems, our goal is to provide customers the quickest, most effective way to protect their people and critical infrastructure with layered cruise missile defense.”

During the demonstration, the radar transmitted targeting data to the Battle Space Command and Control Center (BC3), relaying critical data to the KDA Fire Distribution Center (FDR) for threat evaluation and weapon assignment. Subsequently, the FDC operator used that information to complete “the kill chain by selecting and firing the most effective missile from the NASAMS multi-missile canister launcher.”

Jim Simonds, an SDPE experiment program manager from US Air Force, said they intend “to inform strategic investment decisions through the evaluation of low-cost, high technology readiness level capabilities that could provide near term air base air defense capability.”

“This layered defense solution can provide immediate defensive capability at a fraction of the price of currently fielded systems,” he added.

Meanwhile, Eirik Lie, president of Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, highlighted how the experiment had exhibited NASAMS’ flexibility, allowing operators to intercept almost any threat scenario with its enhanced firing alternatives.

NASAMS Missiles

The layered cruise missile defense experiment successfully launched three missile types: AIM-9X, AMRAAM, and AMRAAM-ER. During its formative years in the 1990s, the first generation of NASAMS was capable of firing a Raytheon AIM-120 (Air Intercept Missile) AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile), the world’s most popular beyond-visual-range missile to ever emerge on the 21st-century battlefield. The development of the second generation, NASAMS 2, took place in the 2000s with all the necessary upgrades, including its tactical data link network. The advanced air missile system used in the recent experiment is the third generation of NASAMS, NASAMS 3, which was first deployed in 2019. Its upgrade includes the expanded capability of firing AIM-9 Sidewinder and IRIS-T SLS (InfraRed Imaging System Tail Short-range Missiles), followed by AMRAAM-ER extended-range missiles along with the introduction of mobile air-liftable launchers.

(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Its remarkable abilities of NASAMS, both in radar and launcher elements, enable a wide range of deployment coverage “over a large area separated by more than 20 kilometers from the FDC,” increasing survivability against attacks in air and land. It features 12 launchers with six missiles chambered each.

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NASAMS 3 was the one used in the layered test, with the objective of whether it could launch three missile versions when connected to US Army radars and US Air Forces’ operationally fielded BC3. And it did. According to John Norman, vice president of requirements and capabilities for air power at Raytheon, the test proved that forces could “operate globally with a variety of sensors.” He added that future sensors and standard and control upgrades would be possible because of the system’s open architecture.

Protecting High-value Assets at Large Distance

Among many nations that employ NASAMS is the US, which has been protecting the air space over Washington, DC, and the White House 24/7 since 2005 and has demonstrated “extreme reliability and with very high availability.”

Chile, Finland, Indonesia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Oman, also ordered and used NASAMS as part of their air defense system. In addition, Australia, Hungary, and Qatar recently ordered and anticipate operating their own sometime in the future, while Ukraine received two last July via the US government. In August, Pentagon announced that it would lend an additional six NASAMS units as part of its nearly $3 billion military aid.

On the other hand, the Air Force Research Laboratory clarified that the complex test is unrelated to Ukraine’s ongoing conflict. It has long been a part of the agreement, even before Russia launched its invasion.