Having a maximum range of about 160 kilometers, the USAF's AIM-120. is apparently inferior to China's PL-15. Illustration.

China should not underestimate the new long-range air-to-air missile being developed by the US Air Force, Chinese military experts said on Wednesday after the development of the new US weapon was revealed, Global Times reported.

The US Air Force is working with arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin and other branches of its military to develop a new long-range air-to-air missile called the AIM-260, which is expected to enter military service by 2022, US media outlet the National Interest reported.

The motivation behind such a development is to counter China’s top long-range air-to-air missile, the PL-15, which was made public in 2016, the National Interest reported, quoting US Air Force Weapons Program Executive Officer Anthony Genatempo.

“It is meant to be the next air-to-air air dominance weapon for our air-to-air fighters,” Genatempo. “It has a range greater than AMRAAM, different capabilities onboard to go after that specific threat set, but certainly longer legs.”

Having a maximum range of about 160 kilometers, the AIM-120 is apparently inferior to China’s PL-15, judging by the US military’s decision to create a new weapon, the National Interest report said.

The PL-15 is equipped with active electronically scanned array radar and is thought to have a range of about 200 kilometers, the Business Insider reported.

China’s top stealth fighter jet J-20 openly displayed its weapons including what analysts said was the PL-15 missile at Airshow China in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province in November 2018 — sending shockwaves through US military circles.

China is also developing a new missile known as the PL-21, which could reach targets 300 kilometers away, the Business Insider report said.

Some Chinese military observers said the US, once a forerunner in weapon development, is now chasing China, and the new AIM-260 could be a copycat of the PL-15 in terms of applied technologies.

An anonymous Chinese military expert, however, told the Global Times that China should not underestimate the AIM-260 due to its late-mover advantages.

The expert predicted that the US missile could use revolutionary technologies to boost range significantly without making it significantly larger, and these technologies will in return bring pressure to China’s air-to-air missile development.

Brigadier General Genatempo didn’t offer any specifics about these revolutionary technologies. However, a dual-mode seeker that includes radar and an imaging infrared capability could be a very important addition in an age of ever-improving countermeasures, TheDrive.com reported.

This would give the missile a means of homing in on its target even in the face of electronic warfare jamming during the terminal phase of flight. Similarly, if the missile optics were to get blinded or confused, it could fall back on its radar seeker. An ability to home in on a target’s emissions, such as those from its own radar, could also give the AIM-260 additional flexibility, the report said.

The AIM-260 itself will very likely feature advanced two-way data links in order to send and receive new information, allowing for more precise targeting, complete retasking of the missile in flight, and engaging targets based on data from offboard sources.

US military officials and aviation aficionados worldwide, were somewhat shocked and disturbed in 2017 when a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet  chasing a Cold War era Syrian Su-22 Fitter dropping flares fired a tried and true Sidewinder missile, only to see it miss. Eventually, a radar-guided AIM-120 would down the aircraft, its Syrian pilot ejecting, but officials raised concerns that a 30-year-old jet could manage to dodge one of the Pentagon’s latest missiles — so much for air superiority.

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