Advanced IRIS-T Air-To-Air Missile

Introducing the state-of-the-art Advanced IRIS-T Air-To-Air Missile, a collaborative effort among Germany, Greece, Norway, Italy, Spain, and Sweden, equipped with cutting-edge technology to excel in all weather conditions and provide exceptional manoeuvrability for engaging even the most agile targets. The IRIS-T is a Fox-2 category missile featuring a Dual-Mode Seeker, which combines an Imaging Infrared Seeker and an Active Radar Seeker.

This allows the missile to track and engage targets in all weather conditions, day or night. Additionally, the missile has a Thrust Vector Control System, providing superior manoeuvrability and agility in flight, enabling it to engage highly manoeuvrable targets.

The Advanced IRIS-T Air-To-Air Missile boasts an impressive range of up to 25 km and a remarkable speed of Mach 3. This cutting-edge weapon system is specifically designed to effectively engage a diverse array of targets, ranging from enemy aircraft and helicopters to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Moreover, the IRIS-T missile exhibits outstanding versatility, as it is compatible with an extensive selection of fighter aircraft, which includes the Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Saab Gripen, and F/A-18 Hornet.

Photo Credit: SAAB AB / Advanced IRIS-T Air-To-Air Missile
Photo Credit: SAAB AB / Advanced IRIS-T Air-To-Air Missile

Regarded as one of the most sophisticated air-to-air missiles globally, the IRIS-T missile has garnered significant success and operational deployment across numerous air forces worldwide. With its state-of-the-art features and capabilities, it stands as a highly prized asset for crucial air defence and air superiority missions.

The development of the missile took place under a German-led program during the late 1990s and early 2000s. The primary goal was to create a short to medium-range infrared homing air-to-air missile, intended to replace the AIM-9 Sidewinder, which was in active use by specific NATO member nations at the time. A crucial aim of the program was to ensure that any aircraft capable of firing the Sidewinder would also have the capability to launch the IRIS-T. Subsequently, in the year 2005, the air-to-air version of the IRIS-T missile was officially put into service.

Later on, Surface-to-air variants which are The IRIS-T SLS and IRIS-T SLM are two types of weapons used for ground defence. They were introduced in 2015 and 2022, respectively. These weapons are mounted on trucks and can launch missiles to protect against attacks. The IRIS-T SLM has three launchers, each with eight missiles that can travel up to 40 kilometres or 25 miles. There is also a separate command vehicle that can control the launchers from up to 20 kilometres ( 12 miles ) away. This system can defend against different types of missiles, including those that fly low to the ground or are difficult to detect. Germany provided this system to Ukraine in 2022.

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Photo Credit: SAAB AB / Advanced IRIS-T Air-To-Air Missile
Photo Credit: SAAB AB / Advanced IRIS-T Air-To-Air Missile

IRIS-T Missile Characteristics

The IRIS-T missile outperforms the AIM-9M Sidewinder in terms of flare suppression and electronic countermeasure (ECM) resistance. Notably, the head-on firing range has been increased by 5 to 8 times compared to the AIM-9M, thanks to considerable advances in target identification technology. The amazing missile’s capacity to make rotations of up to 60 g at a speed of 60°/s enables it to engage targets that are behind the launching aircraft, made possible by thrust vectoring and Lock-On After Launch (LOAL) capabilities.

  1. Versatile Interception Capabilities: The IRIS-T can intercept quick-moving and small targets like UAVs, drones, air-to-air, air-to-surface, and surface-to-surface missiles and rockets, as well as cruise missiles. The missile has an active radar proximity fuze to increase the chance of a direct strike.
  2. Dual-Mode Seeker:  The missile features a dual-mode seeker, which combines an imaging infrared seeker and an active radar seeker. This allows the missile to track and engage targets in all weather conditions, day or night. Even in the face of the most recent countermeasures, the imaging infrared seeker offers incredibly high resolution, target discrimination and flare suppression. It is capable of all aspects and has an acquisition range that is compatible with the entire kinematic range of the missile.
  3. Thrust Vector Control (TVC):  The IRIS-T missile incorporates a thrust vector control system, enhancing its manoeuvrability and agility during flight, thus enabling effective engagement of highly manoeuvrable targets. The integration of a solid propellant motor with thrust-vector control allows the missile to engage even exceptionally agile targets, including those positioned directly behind the firing aircraft.
  4. Compatibility: The IRIS-T missile is compatible with a wide range of fighter aircraft, including the Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Saab Gripen and F/A-18 Hornet.
Photo Credit: SAAB AB
Photo Credit: SAAB AB

IRIS-T Surface To-Air Version

The German Air Force and other organizations are now utilizing the IRIS-T SL, a surface-launched (SL) radar-guided variant of the missile, as part of the NATO MEADS program. Unlike the standard IRIS-T, it has a pointed nose with a detachable drag-reduction nose cone. The missile uses a radar data connection for command guidance during the initial approach together with an inertial navigation system assisted by GPS. At the terminal stage, the interference-resistant IR seeker head is turned on.

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IRIS-T air defence system range: By 2022, there were two types of IRIS-T missiles available: IRIS-T SLS ( short-range ) that can reach up to 12 kilometres an altitude, and IRIS-T SLM ( medium-range ) that can reach up to 40 kilometres and 20 kilometres maximum altitude. There is also a third type, IRIS-T SLX ( long-range ) that is still being developed. It has a range of 80+ kilometres and can reach a maximum altitude of 30 kilometres. As of April 2022, it was still in development. The IRIS-T SLM has completed its operational testing as of January 2022.

Photo Credit: mil.in.ua
Photo Credit: mil.in.ua
  • The IRIS-T SLS missile launcher is designed to be mounted on a trailer, making it easily transportable by a vehicle or capable of being fixed in position. This versatile launcher has the capacity to carry up to eight IRIS-T SLS missiles, offering increased flexibility and firepower in various operational scenarios.
  • The missile launcher is equipped with surveillance and tracking radar, which detects and tracks aerial targets. Once a target is detected, the IRIS-T SLS missile can be launched to intercept the target.
  • The IRIS-T SLS missile has similar characteristics to the air-to-air version, including a dual-mode seeker, thrust vector control, and a high-explosive fragmentation warhead.
  • The operation of the IRIS-T SLS missile launcher and its accompanying missiles falls under the purview of a trained crew of personnel. These skilled operators are tasked with the crucial responsibilities of launching and controlling the missiles effectively and efficiently.
  • The IRIS-T SLS system provides ground-based air defence capabilities, protecting military bases, critical infrastructure, and other strategic assets from aerial threats such as enemy aircraft, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Photo Credit: AirPra@Aero India 2023
Photo Credit: AirPra@Aero India 2023

IRIS-T air-to-air Missile Specifications

  • Weight:  87.4 kg ( 193 lb )
  • Length:  9.6 feet ( 2.84 m )
  • Diameter:  5 in ( 127 mm )
  • Wingspan:  17.6 in
  • Warhead:  High Explosive Fragmentation Warhead
  • Detonation:  Active radar proximity fuse and Impact as well
  • Engine:  Solid fuel rocket motor
  • Range:  25 km ( 16 mi )
  • Speed:  Mach 3
  • Guidance:  Infrared homing and Semi-active radar homing
  • Launch Platform: The IRIS-T missile can be launched from a variety of platforms, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Saab Gripen, and F/A-18 Super Hornet, as well as the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master, Northrop F-5, and the NASAMS ground-based air defence system.
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Photo Credit: AirPra@Aero India 2023
Photo Credit: AirPra@Aero India 2023

In conclusion, the IRIS-T missile is a highly advanced air-to-air missile that has been developed by a consortium of European countries. It’s a dual-mode seeker and thrust vector control system that provides superior performance and manoeuvrability, enabling it to engage highly manoeuvrable targets in all weather conditions. The missile covers a decent range of up to 25 kilometres and a fantastic speed of Mach 3. Its success has led to the development of other variants, including the ground-to-air IRIS-T SLS missile for air defence. Overall, the IRIS-T missile is considered to be one of the most advanced missile systems in the world and has proven to be a valuable asset for air defence and air superiority missions.

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Photo Credit- Diehl Defence
Photo Credit- Diehl Defence

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