Procurement: Sidewinder Sits on the Sidelines

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June 11, 2007: Finland is buying another hundred U.S. AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, for its 64 F-18C and D fighters. Finland got its F-18s in the late 1990s, replacing Russian MiG-21s and Swedish Drakens. The Sidewinder missiles, including spare parts and training, will cost about $200,000 each.

Although over half a century old, the Sidewinder has been the most effective air-to-air missile ever produced. The first Sidewinder (AIM-9B) was 9.28 feet long, weighed 156 pounds and had a max range of five kilometers . The most current one (AIM-9X), half a century later . is 9.5 feet long, weighs 191 pounds and has a max range of over 20 kilometers. The latest version can go after the target from all angles, while the AIM-9B could only be used from directly behind the target. The AIM-9X is about seven times more likely to bring down the target than the AIM-9B. The 9X entered service in 2000, but the older 9M is nearly as accurate, although more expensive to upgrade.

The Sidewinder has nearly 300 kills world-wide to date. But that means for every 380 Sidewinders manufactured, only one brought down an enemy aircraft. Only about one percent of all Sidewinders ever even got used in combat. The vast majority of the 110,000 built, spent their careers being carried by fighters, or stored away, waiting for a war. For that reason, the missile is designed for easy upgrades. Many of those in service have some components that are over twenty years old. The missile itself, is more like an aircraft component, than an expendable weapon.

 


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