Air-to-Surface Missiles

Trend Insight

Interceptor Technology in Air-to-Surface Missile Systems

Air-to-surface missile systems must continue to evolve to counter innovations in interceptor technology.

There is a long history of the use of missiles in modern warfare. V-2 missiles used in World War II had a one-ton payload and flew faster than the speed of sound.            Since then, air-to-surface missile systems have continued to evolve as allies and foes seek to gain an advantage over one another.

What is an Air-to-Surface Missile?

An air-to-surface (ASM) missile, or air-to-ground (AGM) missile, is a type of missile that is launched from a bomber, fighter jet, helicopter, drone, or any manned or unmanned military aircraft. The missiles can be deployed to strike targets on land or at sea. Unlike a conventional bomb that relies on gravity to reach its target, air-to-surface missiles include a self-contained guidance system and are typically propelled by jet engines or rockets.


A primary function of air-to-surface missiles is to establish dominance in the airspace over enemy territory. A military force can command a huge advantage over its foe by using air-to-surface missiles to destroy its adversary’s weapons, military installations, and other strategic ground targets. From the reverse perspective, if enemy aircraft are allowed to fly freely, ground troops become vulnerable to attacks.

Types of Missiles

Traditional missile defense systems fall under three categories:

  • Strategic weapons
  • Interceptors
  • Conventional missiles


Strategic weapons:

Strategic weapons and cruise missiles are intended to act primarily as deterrents.



Interceptor missiles are used to defend against enemy attacks by destroying incoming missiles before they reach their intended targets. This category of missile is purely defensive.


Conventional missiles:

The relatively limited payload size and range of traditional guided missiles and interceptors make them better suited for tactical use as air-to-surface missiles.

Launch Strategies of Air-to-Surface Missiles

When it comes to air-to-surface missiles, there are essentially two types of weapons based on how they’ll be launched. The first is a relatively small tactical missile with a short range that can be launched from a lower altitude air platform such as a helicopter or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).


The second type of air-to-surface missile is launched from a fighter jet or bomber. This type of missile travels much faster and has a much longer range than a missile launched from a helicopter or UAV. The longer range allows these missiles to be launched from a greater distance from the conflict, making it a safer mission for the pilots.

Flight Ranges of Air-to-Surface Missiles

 Missile   Border
Boeing – AGM-86
1,500+ miles
Lockheed Martin JASSM®
230 to 1,200 miles depending on generation of design

Raytheon – HARM® 120 miles
MBDA Spear 3 80 miles
Raytheon – JSOW® 70 miles
MBDA Brimstone
37 miles
Lockheed Martin –
Paveway® II

9.2 miles


Hellfire™ and JASSM® are trademarks or registered trademarks of Lockheed Martin Corporation or its subsidiaries.

HARM®, JSOW®, Paveway® are registered trademarks of Raytheon Company.

Interception Drives Innovation

The farther a missile travels from launch to target increases the chances that it will be detected, intercepted, and destroyed. As a result, designers of air-to-surface missiles include redundant systems and various electronic means to evade detection.


As detection systems become more advanced, a missile’s operating system must become even more sophisticated to avoid detection while completing its mission. Detection systems must then evolve again to catch this more elusive prey. The cycle continues as advances in interceptor technology require greater innovations in missile technology.

Rugged Components for Harsh Environments

Regardless of whether it’s launched from a helicopter hovering hundreds of feet off the ground or a fighter jet rocketing through the sky at a high altitude, each air-to-surface missile must perform flawlessly under the most extreme conditions.


For example, a missile launched from a fighter jet may begin its mission in the desert where the ground temperature at takeoff is 50° C (122° F). Soon, the jet carrying the missile will be flying faster than the speed of sound at an altitude of 50,000 feet where the temperature is -50 C° (-58° F). When launched, that missile will be exposed to tremendous shock, gravitational and vibrational forces as it accelerates away from the fighter and toward its target.


Every part of that missile, from the umbilical cord that connects it to the aircraft down to the tiniest cable, connector, and sensor, must be designed and built to survive that treacherous journey and be fully operational when the missile is launched.

Missile Connectivity Solutions for Ongoing Innovation

TE Connectivity (TE) takes existing technology and components from automotive, aerospace, energy, and rail sectors and reinforces, or ruggedizes, them to help meet the extreme demands of aerospace and defense environments. This includes an extensive range of connectors for electrical or optical applications, wires and cables, electromechanical and solid-state power switching components, and back shells and boots.


With such a broad portfolio, TE’s products and experience can be applied to each of the systems that help keep the missile in flight and on target. TE’s engineers are also continuously innovating to help stay ahead of the advances in air-to-surface missile and interceptor technology.

Key Takeaways

  • Missiles have been used in modern warfare since World War II.
  • Air-to-surface missiles are launched from a bomber, fighter jet, helicopter, drone, or other type of manned or unmanned military aircraft to strike targets on land or at sea.
  • A primary function of air-to-surface missiles is to prevent an enemy from maintaining control of its airspace by destroying weapons, military installations, or other ground targets.
  • Smaller, short-range air-to-surface missiles can be launched from helicopters or UAVs at lower altitudes, while larger, long-range types can be launched from fighter jets or bombers flying at higher altitudes and at greater distances from the conflict.
  • Interceptor missiles pose a great threat to air-to-surface missiles.
  • Advances in missile technology drive innovation in missile detection systems and interceptor technology which, in turn, spurs innovation in missile technology.
  • Air-to-ground missiles must perform flawlessly under the harsh conditions. Every system must be designed and built to withstand the extreme environmental and physical conditions.
  • TE offers a broad portfolio of ruggedized components designed and built to help meet these extreme demands.
  • TE’s engineers are continuously innovating to bolster advances in missile and interceptor technology.