Second Ever AIM-9X Launch By an MQ-9 Reaper

The US Air Force has announced that an MQ-9 Reaper UAV has performed its second ever air-to-air engagement with an AIM-9X. The engagement took place during Advanced Battle Management System Onramp #2, which ran from 31 August to 3 September. The MQ-9 was from the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, using a live AIM-9X Block II to engage a BQM-167 target drone simulating a cruise missile.

According to the Air Force press release, the event was planned and executed by the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron in collaboration with Developmental Test partners, the 26th Weapons Squadron, and industry partners. Connecting the squadron’s operations cell to the ground-based cockpit of the MQ-9 through the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) to facilitate targeting of the drone was described as a significant challenge.

Ultimately, the crew of the MQ-9 were able to successfully receive off-board cueing information, found and tracked the target, and then maneuvered to “validly employ” the AIM-9X Block II against the drone. Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) ensured that the crew was able to receive critical target information in a timely manner, and ABMS “significantly” reduced the total time needed to detect, engage, and perform a battle damage assessment on the target.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron armed with an AIM-9X missile sits on the ramp on September 3, 2020 ahead of the ABMS Onramp #2. (U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Haley Stevens)

Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, commander of the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, commented on the successful test, saying:

“This truly was a combined effort to make this demonstration a success.

While early in development, this successful test opens the door to further explore integration opportunities the aircraft and cockpits could provide to JADC2, as well as counterair capabilities and roles beyond the typical counter-terrorism role assumed by the MQ-9.”

Another view of the MQ-9 on the ramp prior to the test. (U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Haley Stevens)

The MQ-9 community has sought to develop a counter-air role for the MQ-9 since 2017, utilizing the AIM-9X and upcoming non-kinetic measures. The first air-to-air use of an AIM-9X by an MQ-9 was in November 2017, with the Air Force pursuing development of this role and other capabilities to increase the MQ-9’s relevance in high intensity conflicts.

Additionally, ABMS Onramp #2 saw the first overland air-to-air AGR-20A Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) live fire test, carried out by the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron. The Air Force stated that data from the test would be used to “work through critical sensor and other limitations” to facilitate further development of APKWS in the cruise missile defense role.

The Air Force is pursuing the use of APKWS in cruise missile defense, as a single aircraft can carry two to three times the number of the AIM-120s currently used at a lower cost, allowing for a single aircraft to engage more cruise missiles per sortie than previously possible.