A close view of the IRIS-T air-to-air guided missile fitted to the fighter aircraft. Image courtesy of Owly K + Sorruno.
An IRIS-T air-to-air guided missile displayed at the ILA Expo 2006 held in Berlin. Image courtesy of HaraF.
An IRIS-T air-to-air guided missile fitted to the Eurofighter Typhoon multirole combat aircraft. Image courtesy of Ashlyak.
Close view of the IR (Infrared) imaging head of an IRIS-T air-to-air guided missile. Image courtesy of HaraF.
The IRIS-T missile being mounted on the Eurofighter Typhoon multirole combat aircraft. Image courtesy of HaraF.

IRIS-T Air-to-Air Missile

IRIS-T (infra-red imaging system – tail / thrust vector controlled) is an air-to-air guided missile manufactured by Diehl BGT Defence as part of a Germany-led multinational programme. The missile is intended to replace AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles used by the Nato member countries.

The IRIS-T entered service in December 2005 with the air forces of participating programme nations including Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Spain. The export customers of the IRIS-T are Austria, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

The IRIS-T is integrated on the Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16 Falcon, F/A-18, Tornado and Gripen fighter aircraft.

Variants of the IRIS-T missile

"The IRIS-T variants are tailor-made for a variety of carrier platforms conducting air, ground and naval operations."

The IRIS-T family of missiles includes three variants: IRIS-T air-to-air guided missile, IRIS-T SL (Surface Launched) medium range guided missile and IRIS-T SLS (Surface-Launched, Short-Range) guided missile.

The IRIS-T SL is an upgraded variant with enhanced rocket motor for extended range. It can be easily integrated with existing and future air defence systems. IRIS-T SLS is a vertically launched variant which uses the same IRIS-T missile.

The IRIS-T variants are tailor-made for a variety of carrier platforms conducting air, ground and naval operations.

Development of the air-to-air guided missile

The IRIS-T development phase began in 1998. The missile was developed by a six-nation consortium comprising European countries Germany, Greece, Norway, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Diehl BGT Defence is a prime contractor for the programme. Other major companies involved in the programme are MBDA, Hellenic Aerospace, Nammo Raufoss, Internacional de Composites and Saab Bofors Dynamics.

"The missile is intended to replace AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles used by the Nato member countries."

The first IRIS-T missile fired from an F-4F acheived a successful hit in March 2002. In October 2003, Diehl BGT received the final approval from the Federal Office for Military Technology and Procurement (BWB) to start the preparations for series production. In December 2004, the BWB on behalf of all six European nations involved, placed a €1bn contract with Diehl for series production of the IRIS-T missile.

The full compatibility of the IRIS-T with the Sidewinder missile enables the usage of the IRIS-T missile on both analogue and the latest digital interfaces of advanced fighter aircraft. The missile was successfully integrated on the Lockheed Martin F-16 aircraft. The Spanish Air Force and Swedish Air Force also integrated the IRIS-T on their F/A-18 and JAS 39 Gripen aircraft respectively.

The German Air Force has started the integration of IRIS-T onto their Tornado aircraft. The integration of the IRIS-T into the Eurofighter Typhoon is currently underway as four out of five Eurofighter operators opted for the missile.

Orders and deliveries of Nato’s IRIS-T missile

The first export customer, the Austrian Armed Forces, placed a contract for IRIS-T missiles at the end of 2005.

In May 2008, South Africa awarded a contract to Diehl for the supply of IRIS-T missiles for its Gripen aircraft.

In September 2009, Diehl received a contract from Saudi Arabia to deliver IRIS-T missile for the integration on Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado combat aircraft of the Saudi Air Force.

More than 4,000 IRIS-T missiles initially ordered by the consortium are scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2012.

Design and features of the air-to-air guided missile

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AGM-65 Maverick Tactical Air-Ground Missile

The AGM-65 Maverick is a tactical, air-to-ground missile (AGM) in service with the US Air Force (USAF).

The IRIS-T missile incorporates a tail-controlled, winged airframe design using completely newly developed components.

The main segments of the missile include the guidance section, warhead, rocket motor and control section with fins and jet vane.

The missile has an overall length of 2.94m, a body diameter of 127mm and a total weight of 89kg. It is equipped with both lock-on before launch (LOBL) and lock-on after launch (LOAL) capabilities for successful target engagement.

It can intercept flying targets within a range of 25km.

IR seeker and warhead system of the IRIS-T

The imaging infra-red (IR) seeker with high-target tracking rate and intelligent image processing generates high-resolution images.

The missile offers 360° degree defence capability due to its very large look angle and targets can be assigned by the airborne radar or the helmet mounted sight.

The IRIS-T is equipped with a proximity fuse and a high-explosive fragmented war head delivering anti-missile capability against incoming missiles. The lock-on-after launch feature allows the engagement of targets in the rear hemisphere.

Propulsion system on Diehl BGT Defence’s missile

The IRIS-T missile is propelled by a solid propellant motor, developed by Nammo.The propulsion mechanism provides the missile with a maximum speed of Mach 3 and the thrust vector control module enables the missile to engage targets behind the firing aircraft.

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