05:02 GMT17 February 2020
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    The US Air Force’s arming of the fifth-generation F-22 stealth fighter jet with new Air Intercept Missile-9X sidewinder missiles is causing excitement among the war plane’s pilots. Last year the weapon was integrated into the Raptor fleet, but it has been featured on the F-15, F-16, F/A-18 and other aircraft since the early 2000s.

    Daniel, a lieutenant colonel from Tyndall Air Force Base’s 95th Fighter Squadron who pilots F-22s, said the 9X Block 1 version of the missile is "a dramatic leap within visual range missile capabilities," according to Defense Tech. 

    The 9X’s first live fire was conducted at Tyndall.

    The addition of the infrared, dual-use weapons is part of the F-22’s 3.2 upgrade. The aircraft itself is a Lockheed Martin-produced twin engine fighter capable of carrying up to eight missiles, including two sidewinders and six Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs), both made by Raytheon.

    The previous version of the weapon was "literally a 50-year-old missile on the Air Force’s newest fighter," Daniel said. The difference between the AIM-9X, which brings eight missiles on board, compared to the previous AIM-9M’s six, is "night and day," he said.

    According to Air Force maintenance crews, the Air Force made changes to the F-22 so the sidewinder could be integrated, 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 … And the pilot training piece to be able to employ it effectively." 

    The first unit to become combat operational with the AIM-9X was the 90th Fighter Squadron of the 3rd Wing at Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

    In a release at the time, 3rd Wing Weapons Manager Chief Master Sergeant Chuck Jenkins said, "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 … 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."

    90th Fighter Squadron Commander  Lt. Colonel David Skalicky remarked, "Every aspect about this missile, it's a huge capability increase in all facets … We can employ it in more scenarios, at greater range, and reach edges of the envelope we would have had a more difficult time reaching with the AIM-9M."

    Skalicky added, "This missile makes the most lethal combat aircraft the world has ever seen even more capable. It's a giant enhancement to the already formidable F-22 arsenal … We've invested a lot of resources getting this missile to the combat Air Force, and now it's finally here."


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    sidewinder missile, F-22 Raptor, US Air Force, United States
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