Monday, 1 April 2013

Missile Monday: IRIS-T

The MBDA IRIS-T on a familiar wing.
For many years, the "go-to" missile for within visual range (WVR) jet fighter combat has been the AIM-9 Sidewinder.  Now over 60 years old, the Sidewinder has been continuously upgraded throughout the years and is a familiar sight to any military aviation enthusiast.  The Sidewinder uses an infrared sensor in its nose to lock on to and home in on the nearest, hottest heat source, the exhaust plume of an enemy aircraft.

The Sidewinder's popularity has often been challenged, primarily by European manufactuerers such as MBDA in the form of the ASRAAM and MICA IR.  Another missile currently challenging the Sidewinder's supremacy is the IRIS-T (Infra Red Imaging System Tail/Thrust vector controlled).

The IRIS-T and the Meteor.
So how do all these missiles compare?  They all use similar detection methods.  They all have similar ranges, with the ASRAAM being the longest ranged of the bunch at 50km.  The newest Sidewinder, the AIM-9X uses a similar thrust vectoring control system as the others.  All of them are able to utilize a combination of HOBS (high offset bore sight) technology with helmet mounted displays (HMD) to lock on to targets as the pilot sees them.  These missiles are capable of handling 60g of turning force making them extremely deadly.

So why concentrate on the IRIS-T over the others?

First of all, Canada was actually involved in early development of the IRIS-T, but backed out and now continues to use the U.S. made AIM-9 Sidewinder.  Originating from the reunited Germany after the end of the Cold War, the IRIS-T was developed from lessons learned not only from the AIM-9 Sidewinder, but the Soviet Vympel R-73 used by the East German air force.

Secondly, and most interesting, the IRIS-T is actually capable of intercepting an incoming missile.  Providing an extra defense against both surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and enemy fighter aircraft.  This effectively makes it an "anti-missile-missile".

The F-35's internal weapons.  Notice the lack of Meteor, Sidewinder, or IRIS-T.

The IRIS-T is compatible with Sidewinder launch platforms, making for an easy transition.  It is worth noting that, among it's other issues, the F-35 is only capable of mounting the ASRAAM WVR missile internally.  If one wanted to utilize the IRIS-T or the legacy Sidewinder, the F-35 would need to carry them on an external pylon, decreasing its much vaunted stealth.

But hey...  Who needs WVR missiles when those AMRAAMS work so well?


  1. hi!

    If you speak about MICA-IR, that's not the ASRAAM which has the longest range ;)
    But MICA seems to be more a 'medium' range missile than a true WVR one such as Sidewinder, Asraam and iris-T...

    No sidewinder and no Iris-T in F-35 internal weapon bay??? Are you sure? That would be a shame, at least for the US Air Force and US Navy in the case of the Sidewinder.

    1. All information I've seen for the F-35 states that the only internal WVR missile will be the ASRAAM. I'm not sure why this is, as the AIM-9 and IRIS-T should be small enough and are capable of lock-on after launch (LOAL). Perhaps it's another issue... If the F-35 is close enough to use heat seeking missiles, it likely loses its stealth advantage anyway, so it seems more efficient to use longer range missiles internally.

    2. Amazing. The stealth "fadding" at a shorter range is a thing, but in a close range engagement that can always occur, an opponent with proper short range missile (such as Iris-T ^^) should have the advantage!

      Once again, the reason could be integration cost, including expense flight tests.

      Asraam integration is probably an Australian or English requirement...

    3. I find it amazing that the AIM-9X is not going to be integrated into the F-35. The AIM-9X is the only US short range missile and I don't think the US is going to buy British (ASRAAM) or German/Italien/Swedish (IRIS-T) missiles as long as there is an American equivalent.

      The IRIS-T will only become available on the F-35 if Italy actually buys the F-35 and funds the integration of the missile. I don't see this happening, because budgetary constraints are probably going to make Italy drop the F-35 completely.

      All the operators of the typhoon - except for Britain - have chosen the IRIS-T and several nations have chosen to replace the AIM-9 sidewinder with the IRIS-T, e.g. Spain, Greece, Norway, Sweden. That's a pretty good indicator of the missile's capabilities relative to the competition.

      The whole stealth concept rests on the efficacy of long range radar guided missiles. If you can't shoot down an opponent from a long distance, then stealth is pretty useless. The American AIM-120D still isn't working properly and the MBDA meteor probably can't be fit into the internal weapons bay of the F-35. A stealth aircraft without a working long range missile is like a tank without a gun; it's basically useless.

      Finally, the following study of the history of bvr engagements is remarkabe. The vast majority of kills have been achieved within visual range.,d.Yms

    4. I believe the AIM-9X will be integrated into the F-35, but only on an external pylon.

      I've seen that RAND report before, it takes a few liberties, but it does illustrate the dangers of relying too much on BVR missiles and stealth instead of simple numbers.

      Thanks for the link.

  2. Maybe you should add that Canada would have the choice to keep on using its old American AIM-9L and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles with the Gripen or typhoon. Additionally, Canada can upgrade to the IRIS-T and MBDA meteor, wich are both superior to the American equivalents. If Canada buys the F-18 superhornet, then it will be locked in and forced to buy American equipment only.

  3. One word about the Rafale. Canada should also take a close look at this aircraft.

    Since France is part of the MBDA meteor project, this missile will be integrated into the Rafale. Neither Aim-9 sidewinder nor Aim-120 are compatible with the Rafale. If Canada chose the Rafale - by all accounts a formidable aircraft - it would be pretty much locked into whatever France chooses to implement on the Rafale in terms of missiles.

    So this vendor lock in should also be a prime concern. Whatever Canada choses, it is going to be used for at least 30 years. During this time innumerable improvements and upgrades are going to be introduced to the aircraft. These uprades are going to make up a considerable part of the operating costs. In 20 to 30 years none of these aircraft are going to use the same radar, the same IRST, the same targeting pod (for close air support), the same recce pod (for air reconnaissance) and the same missiles. Technology advances in leaps and bounds.

    Consequently, Canada should make sure that it can chose whatever it wishes to integrate in the fighter in the future. Furthermore, Canada should try to participate in developing future technologies for these aircraft.

  4. what about this A-Darter I hear about?