Air-Launched Weapons

Lockheed Martin to upgrade F-22 for AIM-9X missile

29 October 2014
The F-22 carries two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles on Configurable Rail Launchers in its internal side-bays. Lockheed Martin will now make these launchers compatible with the latest variant AIM-9X missile under a US DoD contract announced on 24 October. (IHS/Patrick Allen)

Lockheed Martin has been awarded a USD33.4 million contract to modify its F-22 Raptor combat aircraft to carry the Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile (AAM).

The contract, which was announced by the US Department of Defense (DoD) on 24 October, will see Lockheed Martin upgrade 220 AIM-9 Configurable Rail Launchers (CRLs) to be compatible with the AIM-9X.

Work will be performed at Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to be completed by 28 February 2017.

While the AIM-9X has the same rocket motor and warhead as previous versions of the missile, changes include fixed forward canards and smaller fins. The missile now incorporates a jet-vane steering system for enhanced post-launch agility. The AIM-9X's guidance section has been redesigned and features an imaging infrared seeker, and the missile is also compatible with the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS).

ANALYSIS

Already in service with the Boeing F-15C Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, F/A-18A+ Hornet, F/A-18C/D Hornet, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, and with integration work progressing on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the AIM-9X is the latest variant of the venerable Sidewinder short-range AAM.


Given the F-22's status as the US Air Force's (USAF) premier air-to-air fighter, it is surprising that it was not first in line to receive the new missile, but in 2012 it was decided by the US DoD to delay its introduction on the Raptor from 2015 until 2017.


One of the main reasons for this delay is that the AIM-9X Block I currently lacks the ability to lock on before launch when carried internally, as it would be on the F-22, though this capability is planned for the datalinked Block II missile.


Another reason is that the full 'high off-boresight' capabilities of the missile will not be fully realised until the F-22 is equipped with the JHMCS, which is planned to take place in 2017 under the Increment 3.2 upgrade (which also includes AIM-9X, AIM-120D Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, and multiple Small Diameter Bomb carriage), though the JHMCS may now be deferred until Increment 3.3 (even without the helmet-mounted cueing system though, the AIM-9X still represents a quantum leap in capability over previous generation AIM-9 missiles).


According to IHS Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, it had been originally planned to add a full AIM-9X capability in only the final Block 35 production standard F-22s, of which 87 were built, but this plan has since been revised to include the 63 Block 30 aircraft also.



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