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AIM-9X Three-for-Three in F-35 Live-fire Testing

 

 

The U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and Raytheon Company recently went three-for-three in testing the AIM-9X air-to-air missile against airborne targets, according to a Raytheon news release.

The missile, which uses thrust-vectoring to give it outstanding maneuverability, will provide a close-in dogfight capability to an aircraft that has been criticized from some quarters for a perceived lack in kinematic performance.

“These tests validated the on-board communications and handoffs between the aircraft and the missile required to prosecute an aerial target,” said Mark Justus, AIM-9X program director for Raytheon Missile Systems. “AIM-9X will help ensure our pilots and allies have the most reliable and effective weapons on the F-35. We look forward to the remaining flight test and integration work, leading to fielding of the AIM-9X on the most advanced fighter aircraft.”

f-35 and aim-9x

F-35 AF-03 carrying AIM-9X Sidewinders on the outer wing pylons. Lockheed Martin photo

According to Raytheon, the guided live fire testing included end-to-end testing of the system, and proved compatibility with the aircraft in:

  • Loading
  • In-flight carriage
  • Target acquisition by the aircraft, passing a target cue to the missile on the rail
  • Missile target acquisition and track
  • Launch initiation
  • Safe separation
  • In-flight guidance
  • Impact/proximity fuzing at target intercept.

The AIM-9X is important to the F-35 because as a high off-boresight missile it can reputedly seek out and destroy targets up to 90 degrees off the nose when employed in conjunction with a helmet-mounted cueing system such as the F-35’s Helmet Mounted Display. The missile, which uses thrust-vectoring to give it outstanding maneuverability, will provide a close-in dogfight capability to an aircraft that has been criticized from some quarters for a perceived lack in kinematic performance.

F-35B loaded

An F-35B test aircraft loaded out with laser-guided bombs and AIM-9X missiles on the range near NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Lockheed Martin photo

While the vision for the stealthy F-35 is that it will be able to kill other aircraft from beyond visual range (BVR) before it can be seen, critics contend that stealth may be defeated by advancing technologies and in a visual environment the aircraft would be at a maneuvering and speed disadvantage. The AIM-9X will provide a potent counter to aircraft that might have superior performance. This will come at the cost of some stealth, however, as it cannot currently be carried within the F-35’s internal bays, and instead is carried on pylons mounted beneath each wing.

The AIM-9X is a U.S. Navy-led joint program with the U.S. Air Force, and has been in production for more than 14 years. It is the latest variant in the long and venerable line of Sidewinder missiles. The latest Block II version contains a datalink to provide a BVR capability, and achieved initial operational capability (IOC) with the U.S. Navy in early 2015. Delivery of the AIM-9X Block II to 17 of 21 international customers is expected to begin this year.