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I am aware that the F-22 was developed specifically for the air-to-air superiority role, although it has previously proven its worth for multi-role missions (in performing ground strike missions during Operation Inherent Resolve before F-35 was put into active duty). I was wondering if F-22 Raptors are being used today to test/use their own live munitions for practice/training periodically at ranges or designated areas? To put into simpler terms, do F-22s ever use their M61A2 Vulcan cannon or AAMs for practicing live fire training/operations? I'm not looking for a real detailed answer if this is classified/secret info. Please do not bash me for asking such a odd question regarding a classified aircraft. If there is anyone on this site who has worked with F-22s, please answer if you'd like. Thank you.

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  • $\begingroup$ Weren't the Chinese balloons over the US shot down by F22's? Nor sure if that counts $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Oct 11, 2023 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ @DeltaLima - Yes. That was a regular line aircraft from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB. NOTE: That was the highest recorded altitude for an air to air kill. 60,000 - 65,000 feet. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Oct 11, 2023 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ @DeltaLima That's not what im asking though. I wanted to know if F-22s are regularly used for live fire/munitions training. The balloon kill was an actual threat that had to be taken out. $\endgroup$
    – M66
    Oct 12, 2023 at 0:46

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Plenty of times. There are multiple missile shoots annually out of Tyndall Air Force Base, where F-22s or other active duty and reserve Air Force units fire live ammunition at target drones over the warning areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The United States Navy conducts similar exercises over the Pacific at Pt Mugu, CA.

During the Cold War, United States, Air Force, conducted a biannual gunnery exercise called William Tell out at Tyndall where various units competed in air-to-air live fire exercises for the top spot as Top Gun.

There are a variety of aircraft are utilized for live fire targets, from purpose built drones like the Ryan BMQ-34 Firebee, to retired jet fighters converted into target drones. Target aircraft are recycled from outdated fighter types in storage in AMARC at Davis-Motham AFB. They undergo a program of being re-fitted with remote control servos for the flight controls as well as flight termination hardware in case radio contact is lost. Once so fitted, the aircraft are transported to, maintained and stored out of Tyndall AFB. When missile shoots are scheduled, the target aircraft, marked with orange tail fins and wing tips, are parked on a section of Tyndall’s ramp - aptly named ‘death row’ - and made ready for their final flight.

The only notable difference is that the warhead sections on guided missiles are often removed. This is to maximize the reusability of the target drone in the event a direct hit is not scored. Target aircraft that are still flyable after a shoot are then flown home to be reused. The ones that don’t make it fly their final approach into Atlantis AFB and begin a new career as a submarine.

On 22nd November 1973 an F-14A launched no less than six AIM-54 Phoenix missiles at six different target drones, resulting in four direct hits, one miss, and one no-test due to an RCS augmentation failure of the drone. This was perhaps the most elaborate and expensive shoot ever conducted at a missile range.

Gunnery exercises ie shooting at an aerial target using an internal gun or gun pod, have been done in the past. However, it would be cost prohibitive to use a drone for this on most occasions. Instead, gunnery exercises have utilized an aircraft towing, either a banner target, or a dart like object to be shot at. It provides a very cheap live target albeit with a minimal risk to the tow aircraft. In modern times, with better instrumentation, this has been foregone in favor of simply simulated kills using HUD footage and an ACMI pod. Former F/A-18 pilot Trevor "Gonky" Hartsock has described this process for BFM training in the T-45 airplane on his podcast before.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. I didn't know that Tyndall AFB was still being used after Hurricane Michael hit. Thank you for explaining. I do wonder though, if the use of the M61A2 Vulcan is permitted or not during these missile launch exercises. $\endgroup$
    – M66
    Oct 12, 2023 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ They can employ guns against a drone in a live fire exercise, but it’s much more economical to do it other ways. See the additional post above. $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2023 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ In my (40 years ago) US Navy experience, when the warhead sections were removed from missiles those sections were replaced with telemetry modules to gather additional data about the engagement. $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2023 at 16:01
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Have F-22s fired live missiles in training?

Absolutely. Here, firing AIM-9. These were almost certainly not with a live warhead, but everything else was 'live'.

F-22 Live Fire

F-22 Live Fire Inverted

https://theaviationgeekclub.com/interesting-video-shows-f-22a-raptor-firing-an-aim-9-sidewinder-while-inverted/

(Fun fact - I know someone who is/was intimately involved with the scheduling software to make these tests happen)

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  • $\begingroup$ Fun fact - I used to schedule tests on the Eglin AFB range in the late 80's. The VAX-based range scheduling software was universally despised by Test Project Managers. Hopefully it has improved in the last 30 years. The VT-100 user interface was not user friendly. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Oct 12, 2023 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Gerry @ WPNSGuy that's awesome! Thank you for sharing, I appreciate the responses and I thank you Gerry for your service. $\endgroup$
    – M66
    Oct 12, 2023 at 12:19
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According to this article in Business Insider the F22s at Eglin AFB participated in a live fire exercise using the AIM-9 back in 2020. The article says for most of the pilots, it was the first time firing the missile. I'm sure similar exercises have happened since, but I didn't see anything more recent doing a quick search.

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