F/A-18 Super Hornets Now Flying With Four AIM-9Xs From USS Eisenhower To Counter Drones

Just a day after we broke the news that the Navy had cleared Super Hornets to carry Sidewinders under their wings, images show them doing so.

byTyler Rogoway|
New AIM-9X configuration for the super hornet and growler.
(Official U.S. Navy photo)


Just days ago, the Navy disclosed details about a crash program to give American Super Hornets and Growlers more options and magazine depth to shoot down Houthi drones. Now the service has offered a look at the fruits of those efforts where it matters most, aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). The "IKE," as it is fondly nicknamed, has been on station in the Gulf of Aden for months as part of the task force working to defend merchant shipping in the region and to degrade the ability of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen to continue to threaten that shipping.

The War Zone was first to break the news that the Navy had frantically worked to certify its Super Hornets and Growlers to carry AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles on their outer under-wing stations. Navy Rear Admiral Stephen Tedford, head of Naval Air Systems Command's (NAVAIR) Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, or PEO (U&W), had announced the initiative at the Navy League's annual Sea Air Space conference earlier this week. You can read more about all of this in our initial reporting here.

An AIM-9X Sidewinder mounted on the wingtip rail of a Super Hornet. (USN)

For the Super Hornets, this is in addition to the AIM-9Xs commonly carried on their wingtip rails. For the Growler, the AIM-9X is entirely new, at least for the U.S. Navy (the Australians have this capability already), and will augment the pair of AIM-120 AMRAAMs the type commonly carries on its intake stores stations. The Growler's AN/ALQ-218(V)2 electronic warfare suite relies on pods mounted on the jet's wingtip stations, so Sidewinders have never called those locations home.

The ability of both the Growler and Super Hornet to rapidly respond to pop-up threats heading toward commercial shipping or allied warships is critical. Navy tactical jets have shot down numerous malicious drones in recent months, with the first known 'kill' occurring in late December. Since then, numerous drones have been downed by fighters, and kill markings are popping up on the noses of various jets in IKE's air wing.

The pictures released today, which were taken back on March 9 from the deck of America's second oldest supercarrier, show the new armament configuration operationalized on an F/A-18E Super Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-131), the "Wildcats."

RED SEA (March 9, 2024) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) conducts flight operations in response to increased Iranian-backed Houthi activity behavior in the Red Sea, March 9. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to support maritime security and stability in the Middle East region. (Official U.S. Navy photo)
(Official U.S. Navy photo)

If anything else, this rapidly deployed upgrade is a good practice run for quickly delivering critical capabilities and enhancements to suit a hot conflict area. During a major fight in the Pacific, these types of quick-reaction programs would likely be prevalent and ongoing. In this case, the fact that Australia's Growlers had this capability already certainly offered a head start, but making this happen so quickly is still impressive.

At its core, this proves that the U.S. military can move fast when it really has to, at least in some ways.

Contact the author: Tyler@twz.com