New (still quite secret) Hit-to-Kill missile for the F-35 unveiled: the Lockheed Martin “Cuda”

Until a photo with an interesting caption appeared on the November 2012 issue of Air Force Magazine, few people had noticed that an F-35 display model at the Air Force Association Technology Expo 2012, had its weapon bays loaded with a brand new type of air-to-air missile: the Lockheed Martin “Cuda”.

Image credit: Air Force Magazine

“A Lockheed Martin model shows how its “’Cuda” concept for a small AMRAAM-class radar guided dogfight missile could triple the air-to-air internal loadout on an F-35. The missile is about the size of a Small Diameter Bomb and fits on an SDB-style rack.”

Photo caption aside, almost nothing is known about the “Cuda” missile.

“We are having some challenges getting information on Cuda cleared for public release,” Cheryl Amerine, Cuda POC at the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, told The Aviationist.

“Cuda is a Lockheed Martin multi-role Hit-to-Kill (HTK) missile concept.  Lockheed Martin has discussed the missile concept with the United States Air Force. The Cuda concept significantly increases the internal carriage capacity for 5th generation fighters (provides 2X to 3X capacity).  Combat proven HTK  technology has been in the US Army for over a decade.  Bringing this proven HTK technology to the USAF will provide potentially transformational new capabilities and options for new CONOPS.”

The Hit-to-Kill missile technology Lockheed is designing for the USAF is still classified and some of the capabilities of the Cuda missile are being reviewed for public release. Still, something can be said based on the few details available.

First of all, the F-35 will carry kinetic energy interceptors: “hit-to-kill” weapons rely on the kinetic energy of the impact to destroy their target. That’s why some HTK missiles don’t carry any warhead (others use a lethality enhancer warhead).

Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin

HTK technologies can be used for missile defense (Scuds, rockets or even ballistic missiles). Is someone at the Pentagon studying the possibilty to use F-35s carrying clusters of Cudas as aerial anti-missile systems to intercept small rockets, SAMs (surface-to-air missiles)?

Second, that unlike Sidewinders, Cuda missiles, rather than being equipped with an IIR (Imaging Infra Red) seeker, will be radar-guided. This means they will be ejected from the internal bays in such a way the exposure of the stealth plane is reduced.

Third, the possible integration of the Cuda with the F-22: since a Raptor can carry eight SDB, it can theoretically carry up to eight Cuda, even if the perfect air-to-air loadout could be mix of AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9X and Cuda missiles.


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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. The CUDA doesn’t have a 40 lb blast frag warhead. Subtract 40 lbs from the 335 lb AAMRAM and you get 295 lbs, close to the 285 lbs of the SBD. So if CUDA is anywhere near the weight of SDB, it can use a similar size rocket motor as AAMRAM yet have much higher performance by not carrying a 40 lb warhead.

  2. AFA refers to it as a dogfight missile and its size doesn’t imply a distinct BVR capability. But the apparent lack of a warhead could translate into more propellant and thus more range than its size would seem suggest.

    As pointed out by TiagoJL, the Aim-9x BII adds lock-on after launch (LOAL) capability. The F-35 will, for instance, use its EODAS sensors for 360 degree (4pi) target tracking. A search sector is then designated based on the the target’s anticipated heading. After launch the missile uses its internal sensor to look in the designated sector. A one-way datalink enables target updates along the way.

    Bjørnar Bolsøy

  3. As a comparison the AIM-9 has a 5” diameter, if the CUDA has a 6” diameter, it means its drag coefficient is 6^2/5^2 = 36/25 ~ 50% higher. That means significantly less acceleration and 33% faster deceleration.

    If the diameter is 7”, it’s 7^2/5^2 = 49/25 ~ 100 more drag.

    It wouldn’t have a warhead but it would have some sort of side thrusters which would take space.

    The length would be about 6′ ( SDB length ). The length of the AMRAAM-D rocket is about 7′ ( AFAIK it was 6′ before the 120-C-7 but was lengthened on the C-7 thanks to electronics miniaturization ).

    If the CUDA is radar guided, it wastes about 1′ in front of the radar for the cone. Plus all the electronics behind so I’d say the motor would be like 3′ long.

    Maybe it would have the same kind of range as an AIM-9 block 2 and a datalink, in which case possibly it could replace it for visual/near bvr.

    And why have a load of ~30km missiles if the F-35 detected at this range? It’s better to have long range missiles instead, even half the number.

    And I seriously doubt the USAF would be interested in this new missile. Funds a scarce and the JDRADM/NGM would a much higher priority.

  4. Area cross section is a bigger factor at subsonic speeds: For lowest drag supersonic, you want to kow what the fineness ratio is(length/diameter). IF it is the same dimensions of an SDB, the fineness ratio is in AIM-7F territory. Using SDB numbers, the estimated ratio for the Cuda would be ~11. This is almost equidistant from an ‘optimimal’ ~14, as the AIM-7F is on the other side of the optimum at ~17.7. You will find the short range AIM-9s way above that ratio and the AMRAAM a little higher than the -7F.
    This concept clearly has a larger proportion of the body as rocket motor than anything else we have. It also has a warhead, unless that yellow band now means something different from when I was awarded my Master Missileman Badge ages ago.
    Since this is a company concept and not a DoD idea (yet) and I have nothing to do with it, It might be fun to do a more in depth speculative analysis. Thanks for the info!

  5. It might be a ramjet powered BVRAAM. That seems to be the direction never missiles are taking (MDBA Meteor, R-77M1). Ramjets are more fuel efficient and as I remember it generally shorter than rockets, so that might explain the size. Lockheed Martin engineers aren’t stupid, so I can’t imagine them designing an AAM with a 30 km range. They know the more advanced Russian radars should be able to pick them up around 50 km (Based on the 0.0017m RCS estimate, and the 3m at 350 km estimate for the Su-35’s radar) it seems unlikely that they would propose making the Cuda the main armament if it had such a small range. It also seems unlikely to be a replacement for the AIM-9X, because the Air Force just ordered block III, and made block II specifically compatable with DAS. In light of this, I think it’s safe to assume its range is longer than 30 km

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