U.S. Air Force conducts first operational testing of newest air-to-air missile

Fighter jet pilots from 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron and 433rd Weapons School participated in Combat Archer exercise for the first operational testing of the newest AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.

According to a recent Air Force news release, Combat Archer, which is held at Tyndall AFB, Florida, is the Department of Defense’s largest air-to-air live-fire missile employment exercise and a portion of the 53rd Wing’s Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP).

“Historically, WSEP has always been focused on evaluating fielded weapons systems,” said Lt. Col. Vaimana Conner, 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron commander. “However, in order to bring capabilities faster to the warfighter, WSEP has adapted to incorporate operational testing aircraft and weapons.”

For Nellis’ aircraft, this exercise was the first employment of the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, a technologically advanced version of its predecessor, the AIM-9. The new system includes infrared-tracking, air-to-air and air-to-surface capabilities, making it a better fit for fighter aircraft. The 422nd TES aircraft capitalized on the exercise to complete test objectives focused on the compatibility of the F-15C and F-15E aircraft and weapons software programs.

The AIM-9X Sidewinder missile is the most advanced infrared-tracking, short-range, air-to-air and surface-to-air missile in the world. It is configured for easy installation on a wide range of modern aircraft, including the F-15, F-16, F/A-18, E/A-18G, F-22 and F-35 fighters.

“The purpose of this exercise was to evaluate the full spectrum of air-to-air employment,” said Conner. “It included weapons loading, aircraft generation, weapons integration, aircrew employment and weapons effectiveness, ensuring streamlined efforts across the test and evaluation enterprise.”

F-15C and F-22 weapons officers employed their weapons and fired their guns against an Aerial Gunnery Targeting System towed by an 82d Aerial Targets Squadron QF-16 aircraft.

“Combat Archer is the only opportunity for units to load and employ air-to-air weapons – the test and training range near Tyndall is the only air space that can support this type of large-scale event,” said Conner. “It’s a critical element of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School syllabus. Future weapons officers are able to gain invaluable expertise they can take back to their squadrons.”

The 83rd FWS hosts approximately 38 air-to-air WSEP deployments annually to verify weapons system performance, determine reliability, evaluate capability and limitations, and maintain combat DoD-wide data in order to determine future firing requirements.

Photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee Darbasie
Photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee Darbasie

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