Country of origin
~ 2.5 m
~ 0.12 m
~ 0.85 m
~ 140 kg
~ 10 kg
Range of fire
~ 16 km
was a short range air-to-air missile designed for the US Air Force (USAF),
which was intended to replace the AIM-9 Sidewinder. As no more than
preliminary drawings and mock-ups were built, and little work was
completed, this was effectively a "paper missile" that was never
built. It was nonetheless considered an extremely important program
at the time, and the USAF had big plans for it.
was also an equivalent of the Hughes
AIM-95 Agile, an equivalent
missile developed by the US Navy. There had been bitter rivalry
between the two services over the preceding missiles (the USAF's
AIM-4 Falcon, and the Navy's
AIM-7 Sparrow and
AIM-9 Sidewinder), and the fact that both services were pushing
for competing missile concepts during the same timeframe is
indicative of the political infighting between these organizations
at the time.
was part of a triumvirate of new weapons being developed by the USAF
in the late 1960s, along with the Philco-Ford GAU-7 cannon
(chambered for a new proprietary, caseless, telescoped 25 mm shell),
and the AIM-97 Seekbat (a long range radar-guided air-to-air
missile). It was envisioned that these would become the primary
weapons of a new generation of fighter aircraft also under
development at the time, the FX (short for "Fighter Experimental"),
though the FX was also planned to use AIM-7 Sparrows as an interim
while the AIM-97 was under development.
a small, light, short-range missile with infrared guidance was a
major reversal for the USAF at that time, as their leadership had
almost unanimously favored beyond visual range missiles with radar
guidance for use in air-to-air combat. However, recent experience in
the Vietnam War had highlighted the need for such weaponry, and for
newer and better-performing missiles.
It was also
no small embarrassment for the USAF that more only some 50 launches
of their AIM-4 Falcon missile had occurred during air-to-air combat
during that war produced only 5 kills, while the US Navy's competing
AIM-9 Sidewinder (which the USAF was forced to adopt variants of)
achieved 80. Moreover, even the Sidewinder had proven decidedly
wanting, as its 80 kills required 452 launches.
The rules of
engagement in the Vietnam War also made the need for an improved
within visual range air-to-air missile obvious. In all but a few
extreme circumstances, US pilots using the AIM-7 Sparrow were
forbidden to engage another aircraft without first visually
identifying its type and nationality, requiring the pilot to close
to within a mile of the contact. This had proven necessary as fried
or foe identification technology proved more of a political placebo
in even the most ideal circumstances (General Willaim Creech, former
commander of the USAF's Tactical Air Command, testified before
Congress in 1981 that this technology had never worked *at all*);
and even if friend or foe identification did work, the sky was
always choked with US aircraft, and during the 24-hour periods when
enemy aircraft were even airborne at all, there were never many of
them (the US military routinely had hundreds of aircraft airborne
over the Southeast Asia Theater on any given day, while the Vietnam
People's Air Force never got more than 11 aircraft into the air on
any single day).
what transpired during the AIM-82's development has ever been
published, though it is known that the USAF began work on this
missile in 1969. The program ultimately lasted only about a year
before it was abandoned; exactly why will be explained further
as the design work of the AIM-82 was never finished, there no
specifications for this weapon were ever finalized. Therefore, much
of the information in this article is speculative, and the
specifications given in this article are only an educated guess.
shape of the AIM-82 had an appearance that was broadly similar to
the AIM-9B Sidewinder, though with a few caveats. The AIM-82's
fuselage was noticeably shorter and fatter than that of the AIM-9B,
and while its forward fins were largely the same, its aft fins were
substantially larger. The aft fins were also shaped more like an
irregular pentagon than the AIM-9B's more familiar right-angle
the materials intended for use in the AIM-82's construction were
never stated by the USAF either. It's probable that they never even
finished specifying them.
As the AIM-9
Sidewinder was the standard to match or beat, it can be inferred
that the AIM-82 was meant to have at least the same range and launch
speed, which would mean a Mach 2+ missile with a maximum range in
excess of 10 miles (16 km). Though a practical engagement range
would be as little as half that, as with the Sidewinder. Assuming a
comparable launch weight, the AIM-82's much greater fin area and
shorter length would have given it conspicuously greater
maneuverability as well.
aspect of the AIM-82's appearance is what it lacks; the missile has
no rolleron tabs on its aft fins in its concept art and mockups,
implying that it wasn't intended to be developed from AIM-9
Sidewinder (a missile developed for the *Navy*, thus being a
competitor for the USAF's favored AIM-4 Falcon). By extension, this
also implied that the USAF didn't intend Raytheon to produce the
AIM-82, out of a grudge. Then again, it's also likely that these
displays were simply too early to integrate details like rollerons.
of the AIM-82's intended warhead have survived. All publications
indicate that it would have had a high-explosive warhead, but the
type is unknown.
One of the
featured of the AIM-82 that *is* well-known is that this missile was
intended to use a radical new form of guidance, known as an
"all-aspect" seeker. Rather than having a fixed seeker that's
permanently aligned with the missile, the AIM-82's seeker was to be
mounted on a gimble, allowing it to be steered up to 50 degrees off-boresight.
This allowed the missile to retain its lock on an aircraft and
continue to pursue it, even if the target steered hard away from the
missile's path. Coupled with the AIM-82's speed and immense
maneuverability, it would have been vastly more difficult to evade
than any other short range air-to-air missile in service during the
the AIM-82's design was still being formulated, experts were already
predicting that the AIM-9 Sidewinder's days were over (again, the
AIM-82 was implied not to be a Sidewinder variant); in 1970, Walt
Freitag declared that the AIM-9H then being developed would be
"...the last Sidewinder".
clearest indication of the USAF's confidence in the AIM-82 was a
computer simulation they ran during the missile's development, which
was code-named "TAC Avenger". This simulation was created by the
USAF for a single purpose; to present its results to Congress, in
hopes of convincing them to fully-fund the AIM-82 (which, to
reiterate, was also intended to help sell them on the FX), and the
USAF brass were convinced the simulations results would have that
Commander of the FX Systems Program Office, Brig. Gen. Benjamin N.
Bellis, brought the matter before the USAF's Studies and Analysis
group for assistance, and an officer by the name of Lt. Col. Larry
D. Welch suggested a computer model. Dubbed TAC Avenger, this
simulation pitted eight different aircraft in one-on-one against
in 1,000 encounters each. Four of the aircraft were F-4s armed with
AIM-9E, AIM-9J, AIM-9K, or AIM-82, while the other were the FX
armed with the same sets of missiles.
It should be
noted that computer models are easily doctored to produce favored,
pre-determined outcomes, and that an ulterior motive for the
infatuation of the US defense establishment with computer models
since the 1960s is this very reason. Anyone who doubts this should
read "The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard", which
reveals examples of how the Army Ballistics Research Laboratory was
caught doing this during the development of the
of the TAC Avenger simulation were the following exchange ratios.
of the F-4 against the MiG-21 during the Vietnam War were comparable
to those of F-4s armed with AIM-9 Sidewinders in TAC Avenger, but
even with the increased performance of the FX, its exchange ratio
was beyond improbable --- even considering the eventual combat
prowess eventually demonstrated by the F-15 Eagle. To put those
figures into context, the highest exchange ratio ever achieved in
any air war was by the F-6F Hellcat during World War 2 in the
Pacific, at only 16:1. Even then, factors far beyond the speed,
maneuverability, and armament. Notably the ever-increasing gulf
between the training quality and experience of US and Japanese
pilots, the difference in aircraft armament, the difference in
ruggedness between US Navy and Japanese Navy aircraft, the
difference in how quickly replacement aircraft were being built, and
matters generally understood by a test audience of high-ranking USAF
officials, whom Gen. Bellis proudly briefed with the first draft for
the USAF's AIM-82 sales pitch to Congress. A hushed silence filled
the room, because of the implications accidentally made by the
briefing, had the USAF revealed the outcome of TAC Avenger to
Congress --- how blatantly the USAF was willing to lie to Congress,
and that missiles were so incredibly lethal that there was no point
in having combat aircraft at all (and by extension, an Air Force).
Ferguson, he commander of the Air Force Systems Command had some
choice words for Gen. Bellis after the briefing; "Ben, if I believed
your story --- which I don't --- well, we'd need only three F-15s;
one in Europe, one in the Pacific, and one in the US to train in.
Now take that god-damn briefing and burn it!"
say, the result of TAC Avenger were omitted from the final briefing.
And despite this embarrassing spectacle, Brig. Gen. Bellis was later
promoted to Lieutenant General, and Lt. Col. Larry Welch later
became a four-star General, and Chief of Staff of the USAF.
formally made their pitch for the AIM-82 to Congress in 1970, but
the Navy and their AIM-95 Agile had gotten there first. The civilian
government chided both services for process duplication, and
instructed them to adopt only one of these missiles. That missile
ended up being the AIM-95 Agile, and all development on the AIM-82
ended then and there.
The USAF did
nonetheless ultimately develop the FX into an operational aircraft,
in the form of the
Eagle. However, it ultimately never carried any of the weapons
the USAF insisted were essential for it. F-15s instead entered
service with the M61 Vulcan gun (a weapon that was two decades old
at the time), and compatibility with the AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9
Sidewinder (missiles developed for the Navy). Not even the AIM-95
Agile was used in operational service by the F-15.
has since been largely forgotten by history, despite the ambition of
Sidewinder: A USAF Sidewinder model, the AIM-9J entered service
during the AIM-82's development, and was anticipated to be the last
variant to be produced for the USAF.
Sidewinder: Distinguished from all previous variants by its larger
forward fins and all-aspect seeker head, the AIM-9L achieved in the
Sidewinder what the USAF some years prior insisted would require a
totally new missile. The AIM-9L is still in widespread service
throughout the world.
Agile: A contemporary of the AIM-82, the AIM-95 Agile also had an
all-aspect seeker, but was otherwise a totally different missile. It
was tube-launched, and only tiny, vestigial folding fins, and relied
totally on a thrust-vectoring nozzle to steer. Though like the
AIM-82, the AIM-95 never went into production or operational
ASRAAM: This European short-range missile is broadly similar to
the AIM-95 Agile, although it isn't a tube-launched munition.
Code-named AA-11 or Archer by the West the Soviet R-73 was something
of a halfway point between the AIM-82 and AIM-95. It also boasts an
all-aspect seeker head, but has the substantial fin area of the
AIM-82, and the thrust-vectoring nozzle of the AIM-95. The R-73 was
the first air-to-air missile to have both of these features in one
package, which for some time made it arguably the best weapon in its
Code-named AA-8 or Aphid by the West, the Soviet R-60 was strikingly
similar in layout to the AIM-82, although it was significantly
smaller. However, the R-60 lacks an all-aspect capability.
The third iteration of the Israeli Python-series missiles featured
an all-aspect seeker head, but instead of using a thrust-vectoring
nozzle to enhance its maneuverability, the Python-3 instead uses
much larger fins than its predecessors. In a sense, this makes the
Python-3 the spiritual successor to the AIM-82.
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