The air forces of the leading armies of the world are armed with many different models of air-to-air missiles. The article describes some of the major European, Israeli and North American programs that expand the capabilities of this type of weapon to intercept targets at various ranges.
Throughout the Cold War, starting at the end of 40, European countries have always sought to achieve independence in defense technology from the United States. In this regard, several Western European countries have developed their platforms, for example, the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighter families are all vivid examples of the European struggle for independence. True strategic independence in this area makes sense if these fighters can use air-to-air missiles of European origin. The IRIS-T Infrared (IR) missiles with infrared guidance from Diehl BGT Defense and Meteor Active Radar Homing (ARH) with MBDA active radar homing represent two examples of broad European cooperation in air-to-air missiles. Both missiles were developed by European consortia, which included several countries and companies, for example, Meteor participated in more than 200 companies.
Air-to-air class IRIS-T missile on the Typhoon fighter mount of the Italian Air Force
The IRIS-T missile was developed in response to the general operational needs for the replacement of a short-range missile with the AIM-9L Sidewinder infrared guidance, created by the American company Raytheon. The development of IRIS-T began in 1996, under the leadership of Germany, which financed 45 with a percent of the project cost, and the German company Diehl was selected as the lead contractor. According to Diehl, the development stage of the IRIS-T, which went up to 2002, included several weeks of testing. Deliveries began in December of the 2005 of the year and most likely ended at the end of the 2012 of the year, although it is likely that they are still ongoing. The IRIS-T missile was developed as a weapon system based on the most recent advances in this field. Its main advantage lies in the combination of maneuverability and controllability and digital integration with the helmet mounted display of a fighter pilot. The technical characteristics of IRIS-T, including an optimized rocket engine, provide significant advantages in air combat, since a rocket can intercept targets at a distance of 25 km at a speed of more than three Mach numbers. In May of this year, it was reported that the rocket manufacturer is developing a variant of the IRS-T SLS (Surface Launched Short Range) rocket for the Polish PRWB 9A33BM2 / OSA-P anti-aircraft missile system (NATO codification SA-8 "Gecko"). According to the company, the IRIS-T SLS variant is, in essence, the same air-to-air IRIS-T rocket, only refined within the framework of the launch-in-motion concept. A launcher with four missiles mounted on a three-axis platform will be able to launch during movement. However, the company does not provide information on when this complex will be ready for orders. In addition, at the end of 2016, the Norwegian Air Force launched an air-to-surface test flight of the IRIS-T missile. During these flights, the Norwegian F-16AM fighter manufactured by General Dynamics / Lockheed Martin launched a rocket in order to determine its capabilities in capturing, tracking and hitting a speed patrol boat. The company Diehl said that the integration of these capabilities to attack ground targets was made possible through the refinement of software.
Rocket Meteor continues to enter into service with the European Air Force. Soon the rocket will be adopted by the British and French Air Force
In addition to the IRIS-T, Europeans are developing an air-to-air Meteor rocket to hit targets out of line of sight. In April, the 2016 of the year, the Swedish Air Force became the first operator of this weapon system, installing it on its JAS-39C / D fighters. According to a Saab representative, “In 2016, Saab upgraded the Gripen fighter, including the weapons complex, known as MS20. As part of this modernization, the Meteor rocket was integrated with Swedish JAS-39C / D fighters. They became the first and so far the only fighters operating with this revolutionary European weapon system. ” According to the French Ministry of Defense, the Meteor 200 missiles ordered by France in the 2010 year (instead of the 300 originally planned) should be delivered from 2018 to 2020 year. Like France, Spain also decided to purchase fewer missiles, instead of 400 total 100 units.
The rocket can be installed on new fighter jets of the F-35A / B / C Lightning-II family. As a representative of MBDA said, “Before the Meteor’s initial readiness for installation on fighters of the F-35 family is launched, the rocket will already be fully integrated into the fighters of the JAS-39, Rafale and Typhoon families, and all this experience in the future will provide a very good basis for integration into the following platforms. Therefore, it is not surprising that Meteor was rated for compatibility with all F-35 variants; the risk here is considered to be minimal. The Meteor rocket is planned to be integrated as part of the F-35 Block-IV modernization. ”
But today the integration of the Meteor rocket with the F-35 fighter is far from its logical conclusion for several reasons. First of all, these are technological gaps and differences, since a fully European rocket, created for a fourth-generation fighter, will be installed on an all-American fifth-generation fighter. Software compatibility between the rocket and the aircraft is the main problem, while the United States is wary of the disclosure of source codes and software components that can help integrate the rocket.
Rocket Meteor under the wing of the French Rafale-M fighter fleet. It is planned to adopt this system in 2018
In addition, although the JAS-39, Rafale and Typhoon fighters have certain network-centric characteristics due to the use of the NATO Link-16 data transfer protocol, their levels of integration with other platforms and command and control networks are perhaps not as advanced as those of the F- 35, which from the very beginning was created as a network-centric tool integrated into the wider American network of operational management.
The UK has already decided to include the Meteor missile in the armament complex of its future F-35B aircraft, which will be adopted by approximately 2024. According to media reports, the Ministry of Defense issued a $ 52,7 million contract to MBDA to study the possibility of integrating a rocket into these aircraft. And the missile will enter the composition of the armament complex of the British Typhoon-FGR4 fighters from 2018. It is expected that each F-35B fighter will be equipped with two Meteor missiles on two of the four underwing suspension units that British aircraft will be equipped with. This is due to the fact that the Meteor rocket is too large to fit in the internal compartment of the armament of the F-35B aircraft. It is reported that MBDA has already worked out the possibility of reducing the size of the tail of the rocket so that it can enter the compartment. This will be possible due to the development of a smaller height of the tail surfaces, but at the same time a greater length so as not to degrade the characteristics of the rocket. In addition to integration with the F-35 family, work continues on installing the Meteor rocket on board other platforms. Although the Swedish Air Force was the first to adopt the Meteor missile into service for its JAS-39C / D aircraft, in April 2017, the British Department of Defense completed tests of the Meteor missile aboard the Airbus-owned Typhoon fighter. During these test flights in Scotland, two Meteor missiles were launched simultaneously. The successful completion of these tests allows the British Air Force at the moment to begin its assessment of the combat capabilities of this system, which was planned to be carried out at the end of this year. The French Defense Procurement Agency follows the same path, announcing in April that it completed the final guided launches of the Meteor missile from the Rafale fighter, which also included launching missiles at an air target during tests conducted at Cazault airbase in western France. The test launches marked the completion of the full cycle of complex tests of the weapon system aboard the French Air Force Rafale-F387C / M fighters and aviation Navy. It is expected that the missile will go into service with the Air Force in early 2018.
The April contract was the second success for MBDA associated with the F-35 aircraft family. Prior to this, in March, MBDA announced the launch of several test launches of its AIM-132 ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) advanced infrared short-range air-to-air missile with fighter-guided fighters F-35B, taking off from the US airbases Edwards and Patuxent River. Meanwhile, in August 2016, the British Ministry of Defense issued a contract worth 238 million dollars for the purchase of AIM-132 missiles for installation on the future F-35B fighters of the British Air Force. This contract followed the contract signed in September 2015 of the year, which provided for the development of a new version of the AIM-132 rocket to be installed on the Typhoon-FGR4.
According to the Ministry of Defense, this new rocket will be part of the aircraft armament complex in 2018. In this case, the existing version of the AIM-132 rocket will be installed on the British F-35B fighter jets until about 2022, and will later be replaced by the new AIM-132 variant currently being developed for the Typhoon-FGR4 fighter.
The AIM-9X rocket is equipped with a full-range homing head, which allows the enemy aircraft to be captured from any angle. Raytheon has received several contracts for the supply of this rocket.
If in Europe the leading company in the field of research, development and production of air-to-air missiles is MBDA, in the United States its American competitor, Raytheon, is no less successful. In the first half of this year, this firm received contracts for the production of the AIM-9X Block-II Sidewinder missiles in the infrared guidance worth 78 million dollars. Although these weapons systems are designed for the United States Air Force and Navy, the contract also provides for the production of AIM-9 missiles for foreign customers. In addition, the contract includes the revision of the guidance systems and the rocket engine. It is worth noting that, unlike the outdated AIM-9 model, the AIM-9X rocket has an “all-view” homing head that can capture enemy aircraft from all directions. In addition, in May of this year, the US Department of Defense issued a contract for 7 million dollars to the company to extend the lifetime of active radar-guided AIM-120D Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) missiles that are in service with Australia, Japan, and Norway , Romania and Turkey. This contract followed the previous 64,6 million-dollar contract to upgrade the missile guidance system. AIM-120D missiles are being refined not only in the United States, but also in all of its foreign operators. In January, it was reported that Raytheon and the United States Air Force were developing a new signal processor for these missiles so that their lifespan could be extended further to 2020's. This year the 20 thousandth AIM-120D rocket was also manufactured.
An impressive set of several AIM-120D missiles under the wing of the US Navy F / A-18D carrier-based fighter-bomber
In addition to North America and Europe, Israel maintains an important position in the field of air-to-air missiles, along with Russia and, to a lesser extent, China. The Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense System produces a family of IR-guided Python missiles that are in service with at least 17 countries. In March 2016, it was reported that Israel and India had formed a joint venture between Rafael and Reliance Defense to produce, among other things, air-to-air missiles. Although in the news There is no explicit mention of what rockets the facility can produce, it will be a small surprise if Python rockets are included in the company's portfolio. India already operates the rocket in Python-4 and Python-5 variants. The first of these, which entered service in the 90s, can hit targets from any angle, while Python-5 missiles showed themselves in Lebanon in 2006, successfully shooting down two drones launched by Hezbollah militants. In February of this year, it was announced that Vietnam was joining the Python Rocket Operators Club, buying Python-5 missiles to possibly equip its Cy-27/30 and Su-22 fighters.
Although air combat is rare in the current operational paradigm, it would be premature to declare its disappearance. Russia's current efforts to develop the Su-57 fighter and China to build its Chengdu J-20 fighter show that opponents of the West continue to invest in projects that undermine air superiority that the United States and its allies have had since the 90 conflicts in Iraq and the Balkans. yo However, such an operational advantage should not be allowed in any case, and financial investments in research, development and production of air-to-air missiles indicate that the West is not going to give up its positions.