Swiss F/A-18D Hornet Sports Markings For MQM-178 Target Drone Kill With AIM-120C-7 During Tests in Sweden

The F/A-18D J-5233 taxies at Meiringen on Sept. 14, 2020. (Image credit: The Aviationist/Alessandro Fucito)

The aerial target was shot down with an AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM during tests carried out by two F/A-18s at the Vidsel Range.

In September 2018, the Swiss Air Force sent two of its Hornets, from Emmen, Switzerland, to Vidsel Air Base, Sweden, for a testing campaign with the AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile). From Sept. 20 to Oct. 12, 2018, the Swiss aircraft (a single seater F/A-18C and a two-seater F/A-18D) were involved in a series of missile tests over the Vidsel Test Range, located in the north part of the country.

With its 7,200 km² of restricted airspace and 3,300 km² restricted ground space, Vidsel is the largest over ground test facility in Europe, often used by defense organizations and industries for testing various weapon systems.

A map of Vidsel Range. (Image credit: FMV Vidsel Range)

The AIM-120C-7

The AIM-120C-7 (sometimes referred to as AIM-120C7) has been under development since 1998. It is an upgraded variant of the AIM-120C AMRAAM and features extended range and enhancements in homing capability.

An AIM-120C on an F-16 at Aviano AB. (Image credit: USAF).

Back in 2010, at an estimated cost of 318M USD, the Government of Switzerland requested the purchase of 150 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM, 6 AIM-120C-7 Telemetry Missiles, 24 AIM-120C-7 Captive Air Training Missiles, 1 spare Missile Guidance Section, missile containers, weapon system support equipment, spare and repair parts, publications and technical documents, repair and return, depot maintenance, training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor technical support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support. A first batch of equipment was delivered to Payerne Air Base, using a U.S. Air Force C-17A #07-7175 flying as RCH386, on Sept. 21, 2016.

As part of the firing activities carried out with the latest generation’s AMRAAM in 2018, the F/A-18C Hornet fired the AIM-120C-7 at Kratos MQM-178 FireJet target drones.

The MQM-178

The Kratos MQM-178 Firejet is one of the aerial target drones available at the Vidsel range (the other being the BQM-167i). According to the company’s website, “it fills a variety of end-to-end weapons-release training roles, including surface-to-air and air-to-air. Capable of flying a wide variety of speed and maneuverability profiles, Firejet delivers a high degree of versatility by providing the opportunity to test multiple weapon systems with one flexible and affordable aerial target system.”

The MQM-178 features a max speed of M0.76 and a high-maneuvrability: 10 g instantaneous and 6 g sustained.

With a length of 3.3 m and a dry weight of 59 kg, the MQM-178 is the smallest of Kratos’ aerial targets. It is capable of carrying a combination of internal and external payloads, including tow targets, proximity scoring, passive & active (RF) augmentation, and infrared (IR) augmentation. Depending on the scope of the test, it can carry Luneburg lens (LL), miss distance indicator (MDI), Infrared (IR), passive and active radio frequency (RF) and dispenser for chaffs and flares. It is pneumatically launched, meaning that it doesn’t need Rocket-Assisted Take-Off (RATO) equipment and facilities.

F/A-18D Markings

Interestingly, some time after the test, the two seater, J-5033, was given some special markings for deployment: the badge of the 2018 campaign along with the silhouettes of an AMRAAM and a FireJet target drone appear between the canopy and the LERX (Leading Edge Root Extension) in the nose section of the jet. The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Fucito took the photos of the aircraft last week at Meiringen Air Base.

Considered that two F-18s were involved in the firing campaign, it seems quite likely that the same markings were also applied to the C model, however, we haven’t been able to find it yet. If you have some details or photos about it, please let us know. In the meanwhile, it’s worth highlighting that it is not clear whether the D model fired the missile(s) or just supported the tests flying as “chase”, as planned.

Noteworthy, a Swiss Air Force F/A-18C had already fired an AIM-120C-7 missile as part of “Thor’s Hammer” exercise at Vidsel in December 2014.

The two-seater J-5233 takes off from Meiringen AB.

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.