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IRIS-T air defence system

The announcement of the start of the development of a new short-range missile for equipping the EF-2000 and Tornado fighters was made by the German company Diehl BGT Defense in July 1995. IRIS-T (Infra Red Imaging System Tail/Thrust Vector-Controlled) is a short-range air-to-air missile equipped with a cooled infrared homing head. The development was carried out under the leadership of Germany by cooperation from 6 participating countries, as a transparent replacement for the AIM-9 Sidewinder. The design and layout of the IRIS-T is very close to the Japanese Type 04 AAM-5.

The IRIS-T, InfraRed Imaging System - Tail/Thrust Vector Controlled, is an international initiative to replace current AIM-9L/M Sidewinder short-range, air-to-air missiles. The missile combines advanced aerodynamics and thrust vector control in a tail controlled airframe to achieve outstanding performance. It utilizes a solid-propellant rocket motor.

The IRIS-T guided missile was developed as aircraft armament for air-to-air missions within a European cooperation program. The combination of thrust vector and aerodynamic control provides the missile with extremely high agility. An additional technological leap was achieved with the imaging IR seeker head in conjunction with intelligent image processing. Target designation is accomplished by airborne radar or via the pilot's helmet sight. IRIS-T´s outstanding features even permit engaging targets behind the aircraft as well as interception of opponents`missiles.

The highly agile IRIS-T is the only totally newly developed short range air-to-air missile with an imaging IR seeker, dogfight optimised rocket motor, wings, and a combined aerodynamic and thrust vector control. The seeker assisted radar proximity fuze and the large warhead give the missile a remarkable antimissile capability. Predictive flight path tracking and lock-on-after-launch features enable the missile to engage targets in the rear hemisphere as well. The IRCCM and DIRCCM capabilities of IRIS-T are unmatched and the missile literally needs no maintenance. IRIS-T is a state-of-the art fire-and-forget short range air-to-air missile with unrivalled closein-combat and intercept performance. IRIS-T’s outstanding capabilities and performance will totally change the nature of future air warfare.

In addition to the consortium partners Germany (pilot nation), Greece, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Spain, further countries worldwide decided to procure IRIS-T. It was selected as standard weapon for the Eurofighter, F-16, EF-18, Tornado and Gripen fighter aircraft. IRIS-T was developed by a six-nation consortium with Germany as lead nation. In addition Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden are participating in the series production program. The industrial prime contractor Diehl Defence and the partner companies started series production missile deliveries in 2005. IRIS-T was officially introduced into service in the six program partners’ Air Forces at the end of 2005. In addition to the six participating IRIS-T program nations, the Typhoon users Austria and Saudi Arabia procured the IRIS-T missile. Moreover South Africa and Thailand selected the IRIS-T missile for their Gripen combat aircraft. The Royal Thai Air Force is operating IRIS-T on their F-16 fleet, too.

Work on integration of IRIS-T into a number of aircraft already started during the development phase. Meanwhile the method of achieving full compatibility of IRIS-T with the widely used Sidewinder missile turned out to be very prudent and forward-looking. This enables easy utilization of the IRIS-T missile on both analog and the latest digital interfaces. As a result, the integration effort is reduced drastically for all aircraft manufacturers.

IRIS-T is integrated into the Eurofighter/Typhoon. Five out of six Eurofighter users have chosen IRIS-T as their standard IR air-to-air armament. Integration of IRIS-T into the F-16 in close cooperation with the aircraft manufacturer Lockheed-Martin is completed.The test pilots involved in the flight trials were very impressed by the excellent seeker performance. The Spanish Air Force also integrated IRIS-T into their EF-18, thus providing another modern fighter aircraft with this missile’s outstanding capabilities. Sweden has completed IRIS-T integration into the JAS 39 Gripen.

Digital integration of IRIS-T in all above mentioned fighter aircraft is including the use of Helmet Mounted Cueing systems. With IRIS-T, the self-defence capability of fighter bombers can be improved considerably. The German Air Force takes advantage of this and has integrated IRIS-T into their Tornados.

IRIS-T Main Features
  • Roll-pitch imaging infrared seeker with a large look angle, most modern signal processing and high target tracking rate
  • Seeker assisted radar proximity fuze
  • Large warhead
  • Motor optimized for dogfight
  • Tail controlled, winged airframe with combined aerodynamic and thrust vector control
  • Mass, length, diameter and center of gravity similar to AIM-9L/M Sidewinder
  • Fully compliant with existing analog Sidewinder and digital aircraft interfaces
  • All-up round / certified round logistic concept
  • Performance Summary
  • Seeker acquisition range matching with missile kinematic range
  • Seeker cueing by radar, helmet mounted display, infrared search and track device, missile approach warner and data link
  • High resistance to IRCM and DIRCM
  • Precise aim-point selection
  • Direct hit missile with pinpoint accuracy
  • High pk against a variety of targets
  • Lock-on before and after launch operations
  • Destruction of targets in the rear hemisphere
  • Anti-missile capability against incoming A/A and S/A missiles

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