U.S. Navy Confirms AIM-174 (SM-6) Air Launched Configuration is ‘Operationally Deployed’

An inert AIM-174 (NAIM-174B) on the wing of a VFA-2 'Bounty Hunters' F/A-18F. VFA-2 is attached to Carrier Air Wing 2 (CAW-2) of the USS Carl Vinson. The USS Carl Vinson is currently participating in RIMPAC 2024. Photo by @the_808_airspace on Instagram.

The SM-6 Air Launched Configuration (ALC), known by its official designation as the AIM-174, is the longest range air-to-air missile ever fielded by the U.S. Navy.

This week, U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets participating in RIMPAC 2024 revealed to the public what was already seen in the shadows; an air-launched variant of the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6). The adapted missile broke cover in 2021 on a VX-31 Test and Evaluation F/A-18F. It was the first glimpse of a secretive U.S. Navy program to integrate the SM-6 onto the Super Hornet. Further tests earlier this year, with Super Hornets from the VX-9 Test and Evaluation squadron, supported the effort to integrate SM-6 onto the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18E/F fleet.

Now, Naval News has received confirmation from the U.S. Navy about crucial details of the air-launched SM-6 program, including its program name and operational status. Most importantly, the U.S. Navy has officially acknowledged the existence of an air-launched SM-6 variant for the first time.

    “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.”

‘Air Launched Configuration’ is the U.S. Navy’s nomenclature for the SM-6 and AIM-174 relationship, and the official title for SM-6 missiles used for air-to-air purposes. The U.S. Navy also disclosed that the AIM-174 is ‘operationally’ deployed in the U.S. Navy, a significant step from previous sightings of the missile which showed inert, captive carry, and ground training variants only. The U.S. Navy declined to comment further.

With this, the U.S. Navy is confirmed to have the AIM-174 in active service, likely in Initial Operating Capability (IOC) with the CVW-2 Advanced Air Wing’s Super Hornet squadrons attached to the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). With the induction of AIM-174B into service, the U.S. Navy joins allies and adversaries in fielding an extra long range beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM). Examples include Europe’s Meteor, Russia’s R-37M (AA-13 “Axehead”), China’s PL-15 (CH-AA-10 “Abaddon”) and PL-21 (CH-AA-X-12).

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), underway in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations, sails through the Pacific Ocean on its way to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2024. Twenty-nine nations, 40 surface ships, three submarines, 14 national land forces, more than 150 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC in and around the Hawaiian Islands, June 27 to Aug. 1. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2024 is the 29th exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Marissa A. Johnson)

The addition of AIM-174 into the U.S. Navy is a separate effort from the Air Force and Navy procurement of the AIM-260 JATM air-to-air missile which is being developed by Lockheed Martin. The AIM-260 remains secretive about procurement and delivery given its status as a Special Access Program (SAP). It is likely that the effort to integrate SM-6 is also a SAP, but Naval News is following a possible lead that points to a potential air-launched SM-6 dating back as far as 2015.

The SM-6 Air Launched Configuration / AIM-174B’s first known operator, CVW-2, is participating in RIMPAC 2024 with the USS Carl Vinson. Naval News reached out regarding possible use of the new missile in a demonstration, but the U.S. Navy declined to comment on possible live-fire involvement. Given the public nature of RIMPAC, however, additional images and details of the AIM-174B are likely.

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