They’re all fired up.
U.S. Air Force F-22 pilots said they’re excited the stealthy fifth-generation fighter jets are now armed with the new AIM-9X sidewinder missile.
Already on the F-15, F-16, F/A-18 and other fighter and attack aircraft since the 2000s, the AIM-9X was integrated in the Raptor fleet only last year.
The 9X Block 1 version of the dual-use, infrared missile is “a dramatic leap within visual range missile capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Daniel, an F-22 pilot of the 95th Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Military.com recently interviewed a few pilots and a maintainer at the base, who spoke on the condition that their last names not be used due to safety concerns amid ongoing air operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
The new AIM-9X is part of the incremental 3.2 upgrade to the aircraft. (The AIM-9 missile pictured above, as noted by the blue stripe, is an inert dummy.)
The F-22, a twin-engine fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp., carries a total of eight missiles, including six Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAMs, and two sidewinders. Both types of weapons are made by Raytheon Co.
“With the AIM-9M ‘Mike’ we kind of went out there going, ‘We have six missiles,’” Daniel joked, referring to the increased effort required to make the weapon effective in modern combat operations. “With AIM-9X, we step out the door going, ‘We got eight missiles on the jet.’
“It’s literally that big [of] a difference … night and day different,” he said, adding, the AIM-9M was “literally a 50-year-old missile on the Air Force’s newest fighter.”
The 9X can be used in air-to-air or surface-to-air strikes.
Air Force maintenance crews modified the aircraft to carry the weapon, including “both the physical change to the hardware to hold the missile, and also a software upgrade to the aircraft to be able to employ it,” Daniel said. “And the pilot training piece to be able to employ it effectively,” he said.
The first combat Air Force’s live-fire 9X was done “here at Tyndall last summer,” he said.
Like others across the U.S., the F-22 squadron at the base trains with the 9X daily, Daniel said.
Last March, the 90th Fighter Squadron of the 3rd Wing stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska was the first unit to become AIM-9X combat operational.
“To put it on the Ferrari of aircraft — the F-22, the most advanced aircraft we have — it gives the pilots more maneuverability, larger range, and it’s a much faster missile,” Chief Master Sgt. Chuck Jenkins, 3rd Wing Weapons Manager, said in a release at the time.
“It brings us on par with most of the other infrared missiles around the world,” he said. It also gives pilots the ability to “shoot a lot further with better tracking capability out of the seeker,” he said.
Beginning in 2019, the service plans to equip the F-22 with a newer version of the weapon called the AIM-9X Block II, with improved targeting and range potential.