WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department has approved a $113 million sale of air-to-air missiles to Japan.
The weapons package includes up to 56 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles, which are more commonly known as AMRAAMs, as well as containers, weapons support, spare and repair parts, and technical and logistical support. The AMRAAM is manufactured by Raytheon in Tuscon, Arizona.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Tuesday notified Congress about the potential sale, DSCA said in a statement.
The AMRAAM is of the U.S. military’s most ubiquitous air-to-air weapons, having been bought by 37 countries including the United States. It can be carried by a wide range of U.S. and foreign jets — including Japan Air Self-Defense Force planes like the F-15 and, eventually, the F-35 — although its most famous use occurred in June when a U.S. Navy Super Hornet pilot used it to hit a Syrian Sukhoi Su-22.
Although DCSA notes in its statement “there will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale,” Raytheon is currently struggling to fill U.S. demands for the AMRAAM due to difficulties in refreshing components that are becoming obsolete.
In July, Defense News reported that the AMRAAM’s obsolescence upgrade, called form, fit, function and refresh, or F3R, had been delayed because Raytheon encountered issues developing a key processor in the missile’s guidance section.
The company now plans to cut in design upgrades in fiscal 2019, and key tests have been pushed back by more than a year.
Whether this issue impacts the sale to Japan is yet to be seen. While the State Department’s approval of a sale marks an important step forward in the Foreign Military Sales process, a final deal will still need to be worked out between the U.S. government and Japan. During those negotiations, the value of the contract and quantities can all change, which could further impact the timing of missile production.
In June, U.S. military officials — including Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition official — said they were hopeful that Raytheon could resolve the obsolescence issues. While FY18 budget requests slightly curbed the U.S. Air Force’s and Navy’s AMRAAM procurements, each service plans to increase its buy rates in FY19.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.