The Air Force variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter passed another key test days ago, deploying an AIM-9X missile while in flight to hit a drone over a military test range, officials with the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Program Office said.
The test with the F-35A was conducted off the California coast July 28, Joint Program Office spokesman Joe DellaVedova said in a news release.
The Raytheon-made AIM-9X Sidewinder missile was launched from the Lockheed Martin-made aircraft's external wing in the test. The F-35 was able to complete a series of complex steps to track and target the drone, including identifying the object with mission systems sensors; communicating with the missile; giving the pilot, Air Force Maj. Raven LeClair the change to confirm the targeting information using the high-tech F-35 helmet mounted display, and launching the missile to engage the target, according to the release.
"After launch, the missile successfully acquired the target and followed an intercept flight profile before destroying the drone, achieving the first F-35 Air-to-Air kill or 'Boola Boola,' which is the traditional radio call made when a pilot shoots down a drone," officials said in the release.
During the same exercise, LeClair fired an AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, carried internally, to take out another drone. This was a miss, however, as the drone target was out of visual range.
“It's been said you don't really have a fighter until you can actually hit a target and we crossed that threshold with the first air-to-air weapon delivery of an AIM-9X. This successful test demonstrates the combat capability the F-35 will bring to the U.S. Military and our allies,” LeClair said in a statement. “This test represents the culmination of many years of careful planning by combined government and contractor teams. We want to ensure operators will receive the combat capability they need to execute their mission and return home safely -- we cannot compromise or falter in delivering this capability.”
The F-35A is is likely just days away from being Initial Operational Capability certified, according to multiple reports. It will be the second F-35 variant to reach IOC, following the Marine Corps F-35B "jump jet" variant, which was declared IOC last July.
The ongoing weapons accuracy testing for the F-35A will include the deployment of small-diameter bombs, joint direct attack munitions and AIM-120C AMRAAMs, according to the release.