Air Force upgrades F-22 sensors, weapons software



Air Force upgrades F-22 sensors, weapons software

The Air Force is in the early phases of creating new sensors and performing substantial software upgrades to its F-22 Raptor to enable the stealth platform to fire new advanced weaponry, better identify targets and perform a wider scope of attack missions.

 The software improvement will permit the Raptor to improve its air-to-air and air-to-surface strike technology, service officials said.

The weapons modernization effort includes both software and hardware improvements to the aircraft, service and industry developers said.  

“In the Summer of 2019, the F-22 fleet will begin to receive upgrades to its available weapons with the Increment 3.2B upgrade.  This upgrade allows full functionality for the AIM-120D and AIM-9X Air-to-Air missiles as well as enhanced Air-to-Surface target location capabilities,” said 1st Lt. Carrie J. Volpe, Action Officer, Air Combat Command Public Affair, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. 

 An essential software adjustment, called “Update 6,” is now being worked on by Lockheed Martin engineers on contract with the Air Force. Work on the software is slated to be finished by 2020, said John Cottam, F-22 Program Deputy, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

 A hardware portion of the upgrades, called a “tactical mandate,” involves engineering new antennas specifically designed to preserve the stealth configuration of the F-22.

 “New antennas have to be first constructed. They will be retrofitted onto the airplane. Because of the stealth configuration putting, antennas on is difficult and time consuming,” Cottam said.

Lockheed plans to have the “tactical mandate” portion of the work finished by 2021, he added.

Also, the Air Force is beginning the process of identifying requirements for a next-generation sensor for the F-22.

“Enhancing sensor capabilities is needed to keep the F-22 as an air-dominance platform into the future. Threats are always evolving so we need to evolve this plane as well,” Cottam said.

In the nearer term, the software upgrades will enable the aircraft to fire a wider range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.

The F-22 currently carries the AIM-9X Block 1 and the current upgrade will enable carriage of AIM-9X Block 2, Volpe added.   

Raytheon AIM-9X weapons developers explain that the Block 2 variant adds a redesigned fuse and a digital ignition safety device that enhances ground handling and in-flight safety. Block 2 also features updated electronics that enable significant enhancements, including lock-on-after-launch capability using a new weapon datalink to support beyond visual range engagements, a Raytheon statement said. 

Another part of the weapons upgrade includes engineering the F-22 to fire the AIM-120D, a beyond visual range Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), designed for all weather day-and-night attacks; it is a “fire and forget” missile with active transmit radar guidance, Raytheon data states.

The AIM-120D is built with upgrades to previous AMRAAM missiles by increasing attack range, GPS navigation, inertial measurement units and a two-way data link, Raytheon statements explain. 

Additional future enhancements to the F-22 include the addition of a LINK-16 datalink designed to enable digital communications between 4th and 5th generation airplanes. 

“The backbone of this upgrade also includes the installation of an open systems architecture that will allow for future upgrades to be done faster and at less expense than could be previously accomplished,” Volpe said. 

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Kris Osborn is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. He can be reached at


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