Air Weapons: IRIS Stalks Sidewinder


September 12, 2009: Saudi Arabia is buying the European IRIS-T air-to-air missile, and is the second "export" sale (to a nation outside of Europe). Earlier this year the European consortium that designed and built the IRIS-T air-to-air missile,  made its first export sale, to South Africa, which initially ordered 30 to equip their new Swedish-made Gripen fighters, but only accepted ten of the missiles, and canceled the other 20. 

The German Air Force was the first to receive the IRIS-T air-to-air missile, back in late 2005. The IRIS-T is very similar to the U.S. Sidewinder heat seeking missile, but is built, from European design spec, and components, in Europe. The IRIS-T can be used by any aircraft that can use Sidewinder.

The IRIS has been in development since the 1980s, with the U.S. as one of the original partners. But that arrangement fell apart when the Cold War ended in 1991, and it wasn't until 1995 that the project was revived. The first test launch of IRIS-T took place in 2000, with mass production starting five years later. The IRIS-T is 9.8 feet long, weighs 192 pounds, has a 12 kilometer range and is very maneuverable. It's rocket motor generates very little smoke. Most European nations are expected to use the IRIS-T from now on, instead of the Sidewinder. There are orders for about 4,000 IRIS-Ts so far.


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