Russia is finalizing an advanced air engagement system combining “fire-and-forget” guidance and “single-shot kill” ability within a single air-to-air missile.
The K-77M air-to-air missile with this advanced guidance system will be fitted on to the fifth-generation fighter jet PAK-FA (advanced frontline aircraft system, also codenamed T-50) and it will start to be delivered to the Russian Air Force by 2017.
The major innovation of the K-77M air-to-air missile is its guidance system, based on an Active Phased Array Antenna (APAA) of its own. With APAA onboard, the missile has zero reaction time to unexpected evolutions of the target, which means that once it locks on an aircraft, it would hit it no matter what aerial acrobatics the target would perform to shake off the inbound killer missile.
An active phased array antenna consists of a large number of cone-shaped cells installed under a transparent-to-radio-waves cap on the nose of the missile. Each cell receives only a part of the signal, but once digitally processed, the information from all cells is summarized into a “full picture,” enabling the K-77M missile to immediately respond to sharp turns of the target, making interception practically inevitable. A similar technology is used in widely known Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, manufactured by Raytheon in the United States.
But the K-77M missile is much smaller, because it is supposed to fit into the interior bays of the PAK-FA fighter jet to ensure its stealth capabilities. Yet for the K-77M missile itself, a stealth aircraft or a UAV is a legitimate target it would track and destroy ordinarily. The advanced missile system is fully compatible with the digital communication system of the fifth generation fighter jet, but also could be used on modernized fighter jets of the previous generation. The Active Phased Array Antenna is the most modern radar technology today, and every such device is extremely expensive to produce. Yet the price of the target a missile equipped with APAA can destroy is much higher, so if the K-77M missile can guarantee hitting the target, it is worth the cost, Aleksandr Khramchikhin, an expert from the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, told Izvestia.