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U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet Spotted With SM-6 Missile Under Its Right Wing

Super Hornet SM-6
The Super Hornet with the inert SM-6 missile under its right wing. (Image credit: @StinkJet)

Originally developed as a surface-to-air missile, the Standard Missile 6 has been now installed, once again, on a Super Hornet. The reasons remain unknown so far.

A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was spotted with a rather uncommon payload under its wings, an inert Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) surface-to-air missile. The weapon, also known as the RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile (ERAM), has been designed to be used on Navy ships in conjunction with the Aegis Combat System.

The photos which you can see in this article were shared with us by photographer @StinkJet, who spotted the aircraft about 60 miles north of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake on Apr. 17, 2024. Based on the radio communications which he heard shortly before sighting the aircraft overheard, StinkJet says the Super Hornet might belong to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 9.

“I was shooting other aircraft in the R-2508 and heard some activity from VX-9 on the radio,” @StinkJet told us . “10 or 15 minutes later we heard the jet overhead and I took a couple shots because we don’t usually see aircraft with orange test armament. I also thought the missile looked much larger than standard stuff we are used to seeing so I kept the shots”.

Although the photos don’t allow to visually identify the aircraft insignias, StinkJet says he’s fairly confident that the F/A-18 is assigned to VX-9 because of the earlier radio communications. He also added that the jet did three orbits while overhead before leaving the area.

This is actually not the first time a SM-6 missile is spotted installed on a Super Hornet. In fact, in 2021, an F/A-18F assigned to VX-31 was photographed with the same missile under its wings. Similarly to this April’s sighting, the missile had its first stage booster removed.

As soon as the photos circulated online, discussion started about a possible integration of the weapon as a long-range air-to-air missile on the Super Hornet. The U.S. Navy, however, has never acknowledged similar plans, so that possibility was to be considered as pure speculation.

The Standard Missile 6

The RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile (ERAM), or Standard Missile 6 (SM-6), is one of the weapons employed for the air defense of the U.S. Navy ships. Ineegtrated in the Aegis Combat System, the weapon was designed for extended-range anti-air warfare, but it can also be employed for terminal phase ballistic missile defense and as anti-ship missile.

The missile uses the airframe of the SM-2ER Block IV (RIM-156A) missile, with the addition of an active radar homing seeker derived from the one of the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile. The Mach 3.5 weapon has a published range of 130 nautical miles.

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USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) launches a Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) during a live-fire test of the ship’s Aegis weapons system on June 19, 2014. (Image credit: U.S. Navy)

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USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) launches a Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) during a live-fire test of the ship’s Aegis weapons system on June 19, 2014. (Image credit: U.S. Navy)

The SM-6, also designated Standard Extended Range Active Missile, greatly expands the AEGIS Weapon System battlespace. SM-6 provides not only an extended range anti-air warfare capability, but also an anti-surface warfare capability to be expressed against enemy ships.

The weapon has been officially employed in combat for the first time earlier this year, when the Department of Defense acknowledged that the USS Carney used the SM-6 to shoot down an anti-ship ballistic missile in the Gulf of Aden fired by Houthi rebels on Jan. 30.

Thanks again to @StinkJet for allowing us to use the photos and make sure to follow him on Instagram or X for more!

About Stefano D’Urso
Stefano D’Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he’s also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.

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