A KC-10A Extender from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, Al Dhafra AB, United Arab Emirates, refuels an F-22A Raptor from the 95th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron ‘Boneheads’ in support of a new offensive campaign in Afghanistan November 19, 2017. Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) launched a series of ongoing attacks to hit the Taliban where they are most vulnerable: their revenue streams. Afghan and US forces conducted combined operations to strike drug labs and command-and-control nodes in northern Helmand province. The F-22s reportedly employed GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs).
F-22A Increment 3.1, fielded from November 2011, was an upgrade that provided enhanced air-to-ground mission capability, include geo-location of selected emitters, electronic attack, air-to-ground synthetic aperture radar mapping and designation of surface targets, and GBU-39. Increment 3.2A was a software modification that started fielding in 2014 to provide improved electronic protection, Link 16, and combat identification capabilities.
Increment 3.2B followed and is a hardware and software upgrade to fully integrate AIM-120D and AIM-9X missiles, and provide ‘additional electronic protection enhancements and improved emitter geo-location capability’. Increment 3.2B includes the Enhanced Stores Management System (ESMS), as well as an Intra-Flight Datalink (IFDL) improvement to increase datalink bandwidth and enable co-operative functions required to realize Increment 3.2B candidates.
The protracted timing of Increment 3.2B meant that AIM-9X Sidewinder wasn’t planned to be on the front line until 2017, so the USAF added a rudimentary capability to carry the AIM-9X and AIM-120D before Increment 3.2B is completed. The AIM-120D was added in Update 4, with the AIM-9X added in Update 5, which hit the squadrons in 2015.
In fact, according to the 2016 annual report by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, Increment 3.2B developmental testing continued throughout Fiscal Year 2016 but experienced delays due to software stability and performance shortfalls. It said: ‘In-flight cockpit display blanking and ESMS functionality deficiencies resulted in flight safety operating restrictions, and required additional unanticipated OFP [Operational Flight Program] software releases and regression testing. Consequently, the planned Air Force Milestone C decision slipped from March to August 2016.’ At Milestone C, the USAF authorized the procurement of 35 of 71 planned hardware kits through low-rate initial production (LRIP). The USAF said it does not plan to procure the remaining LRIP kits until it confirms progress in resolving the deficiencies.
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