|Arthur Dominic Villasanta |||Mar 28, 2017 10:54 AM EDT|
(Photo : USAF) F-22 firing a Sidewinder.
The Northrop Grumman F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, the world's best air superiority fighter, can finally unleash the world's best short-range air-to-air missile, the AIM-9X Block 1 Sidewinder.
It's long been an embarrassment to the U.S. Air Force that the F-22 had to make do with earlier versions of the AIM-9 (such as the old AIM-9M) because of the slow pace of integration. That problem was solved only in 2016.
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In contrast, the AIM-9X has armed the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle; the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet since 2004.
Air Force F-22 pilots said they're excited their fighter jets are now armed with the new AIM-9X Block 1 version. This infrared missile is a dramatic leap from the AIM-9M.
The mission of the AIM-9X is to destroy low and high altitude, high-speed enemy targets in an electronic countermeasures environment.
The AIM-9X is the fifth generation Sidewinder. It features a high off-boresight focal-plane array seeker mounted on a highly maneuverable airframe with a greatly improved infrared anti-countermeasures capability.
The F-22 carries two AIM-9X and six AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs), both made by Raytheon.
Air Force maintenance crews modified the F-22 to carry the AIM-9X. The modifications involved a physical change to the hardware to hold the missile, and a software upgrade to be able to launch it. Pilots were also intensively trained in using the AIM -9X.
In March 2016, the 90th Fighter Squadron assigned to the 3rd Operations Group, 3rd Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Pacific Air Forces equipped with the F-22 became the first unit to become AIM-9X combat operational.
In 2019, the Air Force to equip the F-22 with a newer version of the Sidewinder called the AIM-9X Block II featuring improved targeting and longer range.
Raytheon, however, is designing and developing the AIM-9X Block III missile. The Block III Sidewinder will feature a new warhead (PBXN-112); a new rocket motor and 60 percent greater range. Initial operational capability for the Block III is expected by 2022.
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