Home Americas MQ-9 Reaper confirms counter-air capacity with second AIM-9X shot

MQ-9 Reaper confirms counter-air capacity with second AIM-9X shot

MQ-9 with AIM 9X missile
Photo: US Air Force

An MQ-9 Reaper employed a live air-to-air AIM-9X Block 2 missile against a target BQM-167 drone during the US Air Force’s second Advanced Battle Management System Onramp in late August and early September.

The crew received off-board cueing information, found and tracked the target, then maneuvered to validly employ the AIM-9X against the surrogate cruise missile.

The ABMS demonstration served as the second MQ-9 AIM-9X employment since the first air-to-air shot in November of 2017 against a target drone. Since 2017, the MQ-9 community has investigated and proven the efficacy of the MQ-9 in a counterair role utilizing the AIM-9X and future non-kinetic effects.

The 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, alongside Developmental Test partners, the 26th Weapons Squadron, and industry partners collaborated to plan and execute this event, validating a concept emerging from the Weapons School. Connecting the squadron operations cell and the ground-based cockpit to the ABMS network to enable the MQ-9 to target the BQM-167 was a significant effort that required resolution to the numerous technical challenges to provide this connection.

Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) provided critical data to the MQ-9 and crew for timely and accurate target information. The network integration and cross-domain solutions proven during the ABMS demonstration significantly decreased the total time from target discovery to engagement to battle damage assessment.

“This truly was a combined effort to make this demonstration a success,” said Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, commander, 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron. “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.”

AGR-20A in first overland live fire test

In addition to the MQ-9 efforts in ABMS, the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron also continued the 53d Wing’s work in developing tactics, techniques and procedures for cruise missile defense. Working with mission partners, the 422nd TES planned and executed the first overland Air-to-Air AGR-20A Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) live fire test.

The AGR-20A is a fraction of the cost of the AIM-120 missile commonly used for cruise missile defense. Additionally, the AGR-20A can be loaded faster than an AIM-120 and an aircraft can carry two-to-three times the number weapons, directly supporting the National Defense Strategy’s priority of reform the Department for greater performance and affordability.

Furthermore, the 82nd ATRS’s QF-16s played vital roles in other experiments during the Onramp.

“We often say the 53rd Wing is responsible for bringing the future faster, so it makes sense that our squadrons play such a vital role in ABMS,” said Col Ryan Messer, 53d Wing Commander. “Like all experiments, this Onramp required countless hours of work and planning to make execution possible, and our teams are filled with the experts and professionals required to help bring a vision such as ABMS to reality.”

ABMS is the top modernization priority for the Department of the Air Force with a budget of $3.3 billion over five years and will be the backbone of a network-centric approach in partnership with all the services across the Department of Defense. That broader effort is known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). When fully realized, senior leaders say JADC2 will allow US forces from all services to receive, fuse and act upon a vast array of data and information in all domains at the speed of relevance.