Unlocking the Best of LOAL Missile Guidance

One of the unique 21st-century missile guidance systems that revolutionized kill capability to the next level is the LOAL missile guidance. By Unlocking the Best of LOAL Missile Guidance systems, we delve into the present and future of missiles that have redefined warfare, propelling it to the next level.

Lock-On After Launch (LOAL) is a contemporary missile guidance method utilized in modern military systems, enabling missiles to be launched without an immediate lock-on to the target. Instead, the missile’s guidance system acquires the target, hence the term “Lock-On After Launch.” This method offers numerous tactical advantages, including enhanced flexibility and the capability to engage multiple targets simultaneously. Typically applied to airborne weapons, particularly air-to-air missiles, LOAL plays a pivotal role in modern weapon systems by facilitating the carrying of a weapon internally to enhance stealth and subsequently acquiring a target after it has been launched from an aircraft.

Explore the Best Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile
Photo Credit: Indian Air Force

Within LOAL systems, missiles are typically launched toward a predefined target area, guided by initial target data or coordinates. Following launch, the missile’s onboard sensors, such as radar or infrared seekers, meticulously scan the surrounding terrain to detect and track the designated target. Upon target acquisition, the missile’s guidance system dynamically adjusts its trajectory with the help of the Thrust Vector Control (TVC) mechanism to effectively intercept and engage the identified target.

Photo Credit: Indian Air Force / Unlocking the Best of LOAL Missile Guidance / Air-to-Air missile Astra successfully user flight-tested from Su-30 MKI aircraft off the Odisha coast on September 17, 2019.

LOAL systems commonly rely on cueing mechanisms from helmet-mounted sights or onboard sensors like radar or forward-looking infrared (FLIR). They employ a straightforward strap-down inertial guidance system to orient themselves post-launch. Notable examples of LOAL weapons encompass the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) or IRIS-T air-to-air missile and subsequent iterations of the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missile.

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AGM-114 Hellfire The Ultimate Anti-Armour Weapon System
Photo Credit: USAF / AGM-114 Hellfire with Photo Vibrance Effects

LOAL capability enhances the survivability of launching platforms by reducing their exposure to enemy defences during the launch phase. It also allows for engagements beyond the line of sight and enables missiles to engage targets from unconventional angles, enhancing the overall effectiveness of missile systems in diverse combat scenarios. Overall, LOAL technology represents a significant advancement in missile guidance systems, offering greater battlefield flexibility, versatility, and lethality.

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What are the current LOAL-capable missiles in the Air-to-Air Missile category?

Most air-to-air missiles traditionally operate using lock-on before launch (LOBL) systems. However, there are a few advanced systems that incorporate lock-on after launch (LOAL) capabilities as well, such as…

Photo Credit: Isratan Yukikaze
Photo Credit: Isratan Yukikaze / ASRAAM

ASRAAM: Developed by MBDA UK, is a high-speed, highly manoeuvrable air-to-air missile designed for “fire-and-forget” operation. Equipped with Lock-On After Launch (LOAL) capability, ASRAAM excels when deployed from internal bays, such as those found on the F-35 Lightning II. Its warhead can be activated by either a laser proximity fuse or impact, with the former chosen to mitigate vulnerability to electronic warfare interference from enemy jammers.

In March 2009, the RAAF achieved the inaugural in-service “Lock-On After Launch” firing of an ASRAAM, targeting an aircraft behind the shooter’s wing line. With speeds exceeding Mach 3 and a range of over 25 km (16 miles), ASRAAM maintains exceptional manoeuvrability, boasting up to 50 g agility through a combination of body lift technology and tail control.

Photo Credit: Rafael / Python-5

Python-5: The Python-5 stands out as an advanced short-range air-to-air missile, with a range of 20 km and a speed of Mach 4, lauded for its agility and effectiveness. Developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, it incorporates a distinctive lock-on after launch (LOAL) capability and boasts full-sphere/all-direction (including rearward) attack ability. This unique feature enables the missile to be launched before acquiring the target, allowing it to receive target updates and dynamically engage manoeuvring threats post-launch.

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Equipped with an advanced seeker comprising electro-optical and imaging infrared homing technology, the Python-5 scans the target area for hostile aircraft and locks on during the terminal phase. The LOAL capability of the Python-5 enhances its versatility and lethality, positioning it as a formidable weapon for modern air combat scenarios, particularly in engagements where rapid target acquisition and engagement are paramount.

Photo Credit: Gero Helmreich
Photo Credit: Gero Helmreich / IRIS-T

IRIS-T: The IRIS-T is a highly agile short-range air-to-air missile developed by Diehl Defence and Leonardo S.p.A. While primarily employing lock-on before launch (LOBL) systems, the IRIS-T also integrates lock-on after launch (LOAL) capability. This feature allows it to engage targets behind the launching aircraft, thanks to its extreme close-in agility, enabling turns of 60 g at a rate of 60°/s through thrust vectoring and LOAL capability.

To enhance the likelihood of a direct hit, the missile is outfitted with an active radar proximity fuze, an infrared seeker, and thrust vector control for heightened agility. These features enable the IRIS-T to excel in engaging agile airborne threats, offering fighter aircraft a versatile and potent weapon system specifically designed for short-range engagements.

Photo Credit: Sebastian Schneider
Photo Credit: Sebastian Schneider / R-74M2

R-74M2 (izdeliye 760): The R-74M2 is an advanced short-range air-to-air missile developed by Russia’s JSC Tactical Missiles Corporation. Reportedly, the R-74M2 incorporates lock-on after launch (LOAL) capability. This feature allows the missile to acquire and track targets after launch, enhancing its adaptability and effectiveness in dynamic aerial engagements.

With its infrared seeker, high manoeuvrability, and LOAL capability, the R-74M2 is designed to engage agile airborne threats, providing Russian Su-57 Stealth fighter aircraft with a versatile and potent weapon system for short-range combat scenarios.

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Photo Credit: Cults3D
Photo Credit: Cults3D / AIM-9X Sidewinder

AIM-9X Sidewinder: The AIM-9X Sidewinder stands as an advanced short-range air-to-air missile engineered by Raytheon. It boasts an imaging infrared focal-plane array (FPA) seeker with a claimed 90° off-boresight capability, ensuring compatibility with helmet-mounted displays like the new U.S. Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS).

Additionally, it incorporates a two-axis thrust-vectoring control (TVC) system that enhances turn capability over traditional control surfaces, enabling manoeuvres of up to 60 g. Furthermore, it includes a lock-on after launch (LOAL) capability, facilitating launch without an initial target lock and subsequent target acquisition and tracking post-launch.

This feature significantly improves flexibility and engagement opportunities, allowing the missile to effectively engage highly manoeuvrable targets. The “9X” version has been specifically tailored for internal use in fifth-generation fighters such as the F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor.

Photo Credit: Hesja Air-Art Photography / Tranche 3 Typhoon is armed with IRIS-T, AMRAAM and Israeli Rafael Litening Targeting Pod on its centre pylon

In conclusion, Lock-On After-launch (LOAL) systems represent a significant advancement in missile technology, offering enhanced flexibility, adaptability, and lethality in various combat scenarios. By allowing missiles to acquire and engage targets post-launch, LOAL systems increase the survivability of launching platforms and enable dynamic engagement strategies against agile and manoeuvring threats. With the integration of LOAL capabilities, modern missile systems can effectively respond to evolving battlefield conditions, providing military forces with a decisive edge in air-to-air engagements.

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