In recent years, there have been concerns about the aging AIM-120 missile, which has been the mainstay of the US air-to-air missile arsenal for BVR combat. The US Air Force had advertised the Raytheon AIM-120D3 Amraam missile as an upgrade for its obsolete two-decade-old electronics in the guidance section, but the rocket motor and propellant were not improved. However, Raytheon executives have claimed that the latest version of the 44-year-old radar-guided air-to-air missile program has set two new time-of-flight records in the past 15 months.

Paul Ferraro, president of Air Power for Raytheon Missiles and Defense, mentioned in an interview at the Farnborough Airshow with Aviation Week that the extended time-of-flight demonstrated by the AIM-120D3 means that it has greater range than China’s radar-guided PL-15 missile.

While the exact range of the domestic version of the PL-15 missile is not publicly available, its first public appearance in 2015 caused the US Air Force to initiate a new air-to-air missile program for the first time since the 1970s. In 2017, the Air Force secretly selected Lockheed Martin to develop the AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile (JATM), which one top officer said in 2019 formed the service’s response to the threat posed by the PL-15.

The recent flight tests of the AIM-120D3 with the F3R upgrades have demonstrated an extended range due to the longer battery life. Further optimization of the missile’s performance against future targets is expected with the upcoming SIP-4F software release. However, it is difficult to compare the AIM-120D3’s current performance against the AIM-260 program’s goals since the range of the potential threat posed by the PL-15 missile is shrouded in mystery. While China has advertised that the export version of the PL-15 has a range of 78 n.m., this may not reflect the full capabilities of the domestic version. Additionally, the range of any air-to-air missile is dependent on the speed and altitude of the launch aircraft.

Although few details are publicly available about the AIM-260 program, it was initially scheduled for fielding on the Lockheed Martin F-22 this year and on the Boeing F/A-18E/F next year, according to Air Force officials in June 2019. However, there have been no updates on the schedule since then, despite repeated requests for information. An Air Force spokeswoman confirmed that the AIM-260 will augment the AIM-120 and is necessary to counter adversary air threat investments.