|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 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?