The AIM-9X Sidewinder missile is the most advanced infrared-tracking, short-range, air-to-air and surface-to-air missile in the world.
Raytheon has adapted the heat-seeking AIM-9X to strike moving targets on the ground or in the water in 2009.
During a Sep. 23, 2009 Gulf of Mexico test in fact, a US Air Force (USAF) F-15C fired the air-to-surface AIM-9X and hit a speeding “cigar boat”, a type commonly used by drug smugglers. “The missile went right through the boat,” said Jeff White, then Raytheon’s business development manager for AIM-9X.
As was then reported by Flight Global, the modification allowed the same AIM-9X to strike both air and ground targets. White declined to describe the modification in detail, but said the modification involved only software changes. The AIM-9X infrared seeker, proximity fuse and blast/fragmentation warhead remained unchanged.
The F-15C test followed a previous shot by an F-16 at a similar target, which also scored a hit on the boat, he pointed out. The USAF requested to develop the air-to-surface mode for the AIM-9X in March 2007. Although the AIM-9X is primarily an air-to-air missile used in short-range engagements, USAF officials saw a need to make it multi-purpose.
“Maybe you’re flying an F-15 that only has air-to-air weapons,” said White. “The F-15C only carries air-to-air weapons. Well, now the pilot has an air-to-ground weapon.”
The same concept also applies to fighters that can carry a mix of air and ground munitions. For example as White explains, if a Boeing F/A-18 is asked to strike a ground target after dropping all its bombs, the pilot could still use the AIM-9X.
Actually, Raytheon has greatly expanded the missile’s capability since introducing the AIM-9X Block I missile in 2003. The current version, the AIM-9X Block II missile adds a redesigned fuze and a digital ignition safety device that enhances ground handling and in-flight safety. It also features updated electronics that enable significant enhancements, including lock-on-after-launch capability using a new weapon datalink to support beyond visual range engagements.
The effectiveness and versatility of the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile have been combat proven in several theaters throughout the world. It is actively deployed on U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force aircraft, as well as the air forces of 22 international partner nations.
Photo credit: Tom Reynolds / U.S. Air Force
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