Navy Super Hornets carrying air-launched SM-6 Missiles participating in RIMPAC exercise

A pair of inert air-launched SM -6s missiles on a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-192 at Inouye International for RIMPAC 2024. Its designation is XAIM-174B, so clearly the focus is on air-to-air rather than air-to-surface  

The two missiles sport the designation XAIM-174B (or NAIM-174B) and were carried by Super Hornets belonging to the VFA-2 and VFA-192 taking part in RIMPAC 2024 exercise.

On Jul. 2, 2024, an F/A-18E Super Hornet belonging to the VFA-192 “Golden Dragons” deployed with CVW-2 aboard USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was photographed taxiing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, carrying two AIM-174B missiles, the air-launched variant of the SM-6 missile. The shots taken by photographer @aeros808 who told us that at least one Super Hornet from two flights of two aircraft from VFA-2 and VFA-192 flew with the new (inert) AIM-174Bs.

The Super Hornets are among the assets currently taking part in Rim of The Pacific 2024 (RIMPAC 2024), the world’s largest international maritime exercise hosted by the U.S. Navy and started on June 27, 2024. The drills involve 29 nations and more than 25,000 personnel, set to run June 27 to Aug. 1, in and around the Hawaiian Islands.

This is the first time we got a confirmation that the air-launched variant of the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) surface-to-air missile designed to be used on Navy ships in conjunction with the Aegis Combat System and also known as the RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile (ERAM), has been developed for the air-to-air role. In fact the designation XAIM stands for eXperimental Air Intercept Missile (once the weapon completes testing and is fielded, it will be known as AIM-174B).

Actually, it could also be NAIM as the N prefix is used for special tests and modifications: “used for vehicles, which are modified so extensively for special tests, that a reconversion to the original configuration is neither planned nor feasible at reasonable costs.” Here’s a photo we received from Instagram user the_808_airspace who shot a VFA-2 F/A-18F taking off with the AIM-174B clearly visible under the left wing.

A F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-113 onboard USS Carl Vinson loaded with a CATM-174B, a captive training round, during a ship tour for RIMPAC 2024. All three F/A-18E/F VFAs of CVW-2 attached to USS Carl Vinson have apparently received AIM-174B.

Previously, on Apr. 17, 2024, a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet most probably from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 9 was spotted with with the same missile about 60 miles north of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake during testing that preceded the delivery of the AIM-174B to the squadron likely to carry out Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E), a testing phase conducted on production, or production representative weapons, to determine whether systems are operationally effective and suitable to support a Full-Rate Production (FRP) decision.

The very first sighting of a Super Hornet carrying an SM-6 variant dates back to 2021, when an F/A-18F from VX-31 was photographed with the same missile under its wing: this means that the U.S. Navy is working on an air-launched version of the SM-6/RIM-174 from at least three years.

https://theaviationist.com/2024/07/03/first-images-super-hornet-carrying-two-sm-6-missiles/

Comment: I didn’t know this was in the works. I know there are other long range air to air missiles in development. We sorely need them since Russian and Chinese air-to-air missiles are purported to outrange anything we have. The SM-6 in the air-to-air mode seems like a no-brainer. It’s a proven missile and a proven airframe. The RIMPAC tests will probably test the integration of the SM-6/Super Hornet with other airborne and shipborne sensor platforms, perhaps even satellite platforms. Should be interesting, although I doubt we’ll hear any specifics.

I have to admit, my first thought was that this would be perfect to take out those Russian aircraft launching glide bombs into Ukraine, but we will not be giving  our F/A-18s and especially our SM-6s to Ukraine. We’ll see Meteor equipped Gripens before we see SM-6s in Ukraine. Until then, Ukraine may have to try their Patriot ambushes although we’ll probably raise a stink about that. We did the first time they did that. Or maybe those F-16s with AIM-120s could do this, but they would be vulnerable to Russia’s R-37s operating that close to the front.

TTG 

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12 Responses to Navy Super Hornets carrying air-launched SM-6 Missiles participating in RIMPAC exercise

  1. mcohen says:

    I wonder if they could be used to shoot down those iranian ballistic missiles. Probably been tested out already.Al queda is coming out of libya on the way to egypt.Will the tsunami change things.who knows

  2. Fred says:

    Another wonderwaffen to win the war that Ukraine won. No wonder totally with it Joe Biden says he put Putin in his place. How long before totally uncorrupt Ukraine sells of one of these to China?

    • F&L says:

      “.. put Putin in ..”

      If he actually said that it’s kind of funny. Reminds me of Dubya’s “Pooty poot.”

  3. voislav says:

    Given the cost of the missile (~$5 million), I doubt it will be used against low cost targets, like glide bombs. Given the 300+ mile range and high cost, I would think the main purpose of this is an AWACS killer, similar to Russian R-37.

    I’d imagine it’s targeted towards China, rather than Russia. Aerial surveillance and targeting is the key component of Chinese anti-ship/anti-carrier ballistic missile strategy and this allows US carrier groups to push Chinese surveillance aircraft further out, hopefully outside of their radar range (~300 miles for surface ships).

    • TTG says:

      voislav,

      I agree this has much more to do with China than Russia. As I said, the chance of us giving an air launched SM-6 and F/A-18s to Ukraine is slim to none. You’re also right about this primarily being an AWACS killer. It will also be very useful as a killer of missile carriers and, in Ukraine, glide bomb carriers.

    • voislav says:

      Just to add, makes me wonder what’s going on with JATM development? That missile was supposed to provide long-range BVR capability, rumoured to be in excess of 150 miles, similar to Chinese PL-17 and PL-21.

      Makes me think that USAF is thinking its development is not on track and are plugging the gap with SM-6 in the meantime. Big downside is that SM-6 is not going to fit into internal weapons bays of F-22 and F-35, negating their stealth, whereas JATM is supposed to fit into these.

  4. leith says:

    They can be used in a ship-killer mode also. Or that may just be for the Aegis controlled RIM-174? But this air launched version should be able to accept targeting data from Aegis ships or from E-2 AEW birds or perhaps even from satellites.

  5. F&L says:

    I didn’t know this — did you? Very brief.

    American Icon!
    https://youtube.com/shorts/wEaUXRb6FZM

    • TTG says:

      F&L,

      I did know this about him. I always liked him as an actor and delved more into his background once I learned he was Lithuanian-American, a Lipka Tatar actually.

  6. James says:

    I’ve been wanting to see some Sukhoi vs F-16 engagements since the start of this war. Make it happen, guys!

  7. babelthuap says:

    How many times will it take for NATO countries having to watch their main bodyguard fail before they decide to start lifting weights and doing moderate cardio themselves?

    Will seeing these antiquated jets being knocked out be enough? I know they have upgraded avionics but still, these things are ancient and the pilots went through an accelerated program. Willing to bet they didn’t log anywhere near the number of training sorties required by US pilots. Likely majority flight simulator. Not gonna cut it.

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