Posted: May 16, 2016 1:39 PM

Upgrades Keep Navy Air-to-Air Weapons on the Cutting Edge

By WILLIAM MATTHEWS, Seapower Special Correspondent

One of the missiles is 8 years old, the other is pushing 30. But steady technology upgrades have kept these two Navy air-to-air weapons on the cutting edge.

The younger one is the AIM-9X Block II. The older is the AIM-120D AMRAAM — advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

The 9X Block II was introduced in 2008, but did not go into full rate production until 2015. It’s the latest member of the Sidewinder missile family that dates back to the mid-1970s.

The 9X Block II can do things its predecessors could hardly have imagined. For example, it is equipped with a 360-degree engagement capability and a data link, said Capt. Jim Stoneman, chief of the Navy’s Air-to-Air Missiles Program Office. That enables a pilot to fire the missile first and then aim it at a target.

“The pilot can shoot and then pass more information to the missile” via the data link to vector the missile to a target, Stoneman said during a briefing May 16 at the 2016 Sea-Air-Space Exposition. The missile’s 360-degree capability enables it to engage targets — even those behind the aircraft, he said.

On some planes, such as the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, pilots will be able to aim the missiles using sights built into their helmets.

Although the Sidewinder was developed as a short-range missile meant for close-in kills, the Block II’s range has been “about doubled,” Stoneman said, making it into a “beyond-visual-range” weapon.

A Block III version of the 9X is on the drawing board, but for now remains unfunded, Stoneman said.

The AIM-120D is the latest version of the AMRAAM, which the Navy and Air Force have used since 1987. The D model also features a data link that enables a pilot to fire the missile and then send it targeting information, Stoneman said.

It has an improved Global Positioning System guidance system and enhanced anti-jamming capabilities to shield in the midst of enemy electronic warfare. After several years of testing, the 120D is now making its way to the fleet, Stoneman said.

Software upgrades are under way, and those should further increase the capability of the “Delta” model, he said. For now, there are no plans for a follow-on missile, he said.

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