The 411th Flight Test Squadron and F-22 Combined Test Force successfully test fired two guided AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles this year as part of the latest phase in getting the Raptor closer to using the missile operationally.
The AIM-9X is an advanced infrared missile and the newest of the Sidewinder family of short-range air-to-air missiles carried on a wide range of fighter jets.
The first guided launch of the AIM-9X from an F-22 Raptor was Feb. 26 by Maj. Christopher Guarente, 411 FLTS assistant director of operations and F-22 test pilot. The missile successfully shot down a BQM-34 drone. The second guided firing was conducted April 29 by Maj. Patrick Killingsworth, targeting a BQM-74 drone. Both shots were taken over the nearby China Lake test range.
“The second shot was done in a much more stressing flight regime, doing things that only the Raptor can do while employing the AIM-9X,” said Jeremy Cookson, F-22 Weapons Integration lead engineer.
These two guided test shots mark the beginning of the integration phase of the F-22 CTF’s AIM-9X program. The CTF completed the carriage phase, and the separations phase is ongoing with 17 successful releases. These phases ensure the F-22 can carry and shoot the missile through the extremes of the flight envelope.
“Once you can fly the AIM-9X, once you can have it safely come off the aircraft, then it’s time to make sure it can hit its target. We are currently integrating the electronics, having the missile talk to the aircraft and the aircraft telling the missile where to go,” Cookson said.
The AIM-9X has a digital guidance system and infrared signal processing that results in enhanced acquisition ranges, greatly improved infrared counter-countermeasures capability, and extremely high off-boresight (the angle off of the nose of the aircraft) engagement zones for unprecedented first shot, first kill air-to-air performance.
The AIM-9X has the same warhead and a slightly modified rocket motor as previous versions of the missile. Changes also include fixed forward fins and smaller rear control fins.
“The 9X will give the pilot the capability to launch this missile from any condition he can find himself in,” said Guarente. “The aircraft will be able to employ the 9X at high angles of attack and high look angles, which will allow the pilot freedom to maneuver as necessary to achieve the first shot and kill without being limited by the missile’s launch capability. We are expecting that the 9X will be cleared for launch in flight conditions no other aircraft can even achieve, bringing the full-maneuvering capabilities of the F-22 to bear.”
According to the Air Force, the F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft. With its stealth, advanced flight controls, thrust vectoring and high thrust-to-weight ratio and integrated avionics, the Raptor has the capability to outmaneuver all current and projected aircraft along with being able to kill enemies without being detected.
Currently, operational F-22s carry the AIM-9M. The AIM-9X will make the F-22 even more lethal.
“The 9X will bring an increased capability in all aspects as compared to the 9M,” said Guarente. “The 9X is a longer range, more maneuverable missile and can be launched from a much, much larger flight envelope than the 9M. This will finally give the F-22 a missile that can be employed at the extreme flight conditions that the F-22 is capable of operating and often does operate.”
The F-22 CTF has helped develop the modified launch rail as well as the basic software for integration of the AIM-9X into the aircraft avionic system.
“The AIM-9X will be fielded with the next aircraft software drop and requires hardware modifications to the launch rail. Further capability enhancements are expected in the follow-on software drop,” added Guarente.
Cookson said fielding the AIM-9X on the F-22 has been a process, beginning around 2008 when the Air Force decided to have the Raptor carry the advanced missile. Through the hard work of the F-22 CTF, getting the AIM-9X out to the warfighter is closer to reality.
“There have been a lot of findings and challenges along the way and the whole team has done a phenomenal job getting us to where we are today. AIM-9X is long overdue on the F-22, but it is going to be a tremendous capability for the Air Force and that’s due to the hard work this team’s doing.”