Even after the US Air Force's fleet of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor air superiority fighters starts receiving full Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder high off-boresight missle capability in 2017, the aircraft needs a helmet-mounted cueing system (HMCS) to use the weapon to its full potential. That is even taking into account the AIM-9X Block I and Block II's helmetless high off-boresight (HHOBS) capability.
"Without a helmet, that means the missile will need a very tight cue from somewhere," one F-22 pilot says. "[That's] something that is not always available in a dynamic, turning environment."
To be clear, the AIM-9X is a huge improvement over the AIM-9M version even without a HMCS . "Don't get me wrong, it will still be better than having a 9M, but it won't be anything close to what a fighter with a helmet and an externally carried missile has," the pilot says. "Hence, probably not the savior we've all been waiting on."
The USAF has a number of options available, if funding could be secured. One relatively simple plug-and-play solution is Gentex's Scorpion HMCS, which is a color, paddle-based system that is already in use on some versions of the Lockheed F-16 flown by the USAF's Air National Guard. Another possibility would be VSI's Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System II (JHMCS II), a version of which uses an optical tracker to measure head movements.
At longer ranges, the Block II AIM-9X, especially, will be a huge improvement for the Raptor. "LOAL [Lock-on after Launch] is great for the longer range shots, which will be nice as it basically gives us an additional two BVR [beyond visual range] weapons," the pilot says.
Even without a HMCS, the AIM-9X cannot be fielded to the Raptor fleet soon enough.
"We've been screaming for years that the F-22 needs to have the capability fielded, and fast," the Raptor pilot says. "Once the jets transitions from BVR [beyond visual range] to WVR [within visual range] with only AIM-9M-9s it is hugely vulnerable."
The huge advantage offered by such a high off-boresight missile in combination with a HMCS may give a third or fourth-generation fighter a decided edge over the fifth-generation Raptor (with AIM-9Ms) in a visual range encounter.