US Approves AIM-9X Block II+ Foreign Military Sale To Italy

AIM-9X Italy
File photo of an F-35 of the 40th Flight Test Squadron launching an AIM-9X missile. (U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt Brandi Hansen

The sale was previously announced by NAVAIR in 2021, when the Italian Air Force signed the Letter of Offer & Acceptance.

A month after the notification of the approval of the Foreign Military Sale to Italy for AIM-120C-8 missiles and GBU-53/B bombs, the State Department has now approved also the FMS to Italy for the AIM-9X Block II+ Sidewinder missiles. The Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Air-to-Air Missiles Program Office (PMA-259) already announced Italy as the 28th Air Intercept Missile (AIM)-9X International Partner in 2021, with the missile being procured to equip the F-35 Lightning II fighter jets of both the Italian Air Force and Italian Navy.

Similarly to the FMS of the AIM-120C-8 and GBU-53/B, Italy already requested other FMS whose values were under the congressional notification threshold. With this new one, a congressional notification combined the three FMS cases for a total of 66 AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II+ Tactical Missiles, 7 AIM-9X Block II+ Tactical Guidance Units, 24 AIM-9X Captive Air Training Missiles and 4 AIM-9X CATM Guidance Units.

As usual, also included are active optical target detectors, containers, personnel training and training equipment, classified and unclassified publications and technical documents, as well as engineering, technical, and logistics support services. The estimated total cost is $90.6 million, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notice, which equals to €83.2 million.

According to the 2021 press release from NAVAIR, the missiles acquired by Italy will be part of the U. S. Navy’s Lot 23 Production Contract which will was awarded in 2023, with the delivery of the missiles scheduled for 2026. At the time, however, the quantities were not known, with NAVAIR only mentioning a “a modest quantity” of missiles.

The AIM-9X Block II is considered the most advanced short range air-air missile in the U.S. inventory, capable of using its datalink, thrust vectoring maneuverability, and advanced imaging infrared seeker to hit targets even behind the launching fighter thanks to the Lock-On-After-Launch capability. Unlike previous AIM-9 models, the AIM-9X Block II/II+ can even be used against targets on the ground.

An Italian Air Force F-35A flying fully loaded in “Beast Mode”. Notice the empty wingtip rail, usually employed for the AIM-9X missiles. (Photo: Aeronautica Militare)

Italy already operates two types of short-range air-to-air missiles: the AIM-9L (for Tornado, AMX and AV-8B+) and the IRIS-T (for the Eurofighter Typhoon).  However, neither of those could be used with the 5th gen aircraft. This left the Italian F-35s with only one air-to-air weapon, the AIM-120, available for the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duty. The FMS will allow Italy to equip its aircraft with both the AIM-120 in the internal weapon bays and the AIM-9X under the wingtips’ rails, like other international F-35 users.

Italy is not the only user who had to resort to this solution, with a very similar situation happening also to Norway some years ago. Norway, like Italy, used the IRIS-T on its recently retired F-16s, however in 2015 a deal to acquire the AIM-9X was signed as the European missile was not available for the F-35. The IRIS-T was initially scheduled for integration on the F-35, with Norway sponsoring an initial study preparatory for the works, but for unknown reason the integration did not go ahead.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.