AIM-9X missile aims at surface

 - February 2, 2010, 12:43 AM

Following a successful test last fall, Raytheon’s fifth-generation AIM-9X–the principal short-range air-to-air missile employed by U.S. forces–could become a part of the air-to-surface inventory for employment against both land and sea targets.

The company is developing a precision surface attack capability for the AIM-9X as part of a U.S. Air Force Wartime Rapid Acquisition Process, which called for a successful demonstration of that ability. Raytheon now awaits further developments, while planning to continue trials.

According to Jeff White, AIM-9X business development at Raytheon Missile Systems, the company does not see the missile as a replacement for other air-to-surface weapons, but rather as a useful adjunct. “It’s another tool in the toolkit,” White said. “If pilots have used all their attack ordnance, they can still employ the AIM-9X against surface targets.”

Raytheon’s most recent test of the capability came on September 23, when it was fired from a U.S. Air Force F-16C fighter and sank a rapidly moving boat target in the Gulf of Mexico. That was the third trial of the AIM-9X in the air-to-surface role, having been preceded by an F-15 shot against a fast-moving armored personnel carrier in March 2007 and an F-16 shot against a maneuvering boat in April 2008.

Surface attack capability is possible thanks to the weapon’s staring focal-plane array seeker, which images the target. A software change in the missile allows the image to be presented in the cockpit or on a helmet display, such as that from a traditional IR-guided attack weapon such as the Maverick. The seeker locks on to the target with its auto-tracking system and the weapon is fired.

The air-to-surface test was just one recent highlight for the AIM-9X team and one of 29 test firings in 2009, all of which were successful. The total of AIM-9X launches is now around 180. Earlier this year the 4,000th missile was delivered in an unbroken 95-month run of on-time deliveries. The millionth on-wing flight hour was also notched in January.

Last year Raytheon completed development testing of the Block 2 missile. It has an improved fuze of smaller volume, thus freeing up internal space for the addition of a data link to give lock-on-after-launch  capability. The missile has already proven its high off-boresight capability and its long shelf life, which is aided because the weapons are stored in wired canisters that allow routine testing without the need to open the container.

Other applications being developed and tested are surface launch, including a successful test from a Humvee vehicle against a UAV target, and subsurface launch. The latter capability involves the AIM-9X being canister-launched from a submarine, which was successfully demonstrated in September as part of the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Warfare Weapon program.

Also during the year, Singapore joined eight other international customers operating the AIM-9X. Its air force is training with the weapon on its new F-15SG Eagles at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.