Country of origin
Range of fire
based on analyses of air combat reports in the Vietnam War, the
second generation of the
Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinder were a product improvement of the
AIM-9B and AIM-9D. These missiles were the mainstay of many air arms
around the world for over 30 years.
The first generation of AIM-9 Sidewinders had delivered mixed
results in combat over Southeast Asia. While they were the most
effective missile by far used by the US military in that theater,
the short range and narrow azimuth of their seeker heads gave them
much less utility than expected, and when stronger heat sources than
the target entered their field of view (e.g., burning vehicles on
the ground, factory smokestacks, and sun glare), Sidewinders would
go after these instead. The Probability of Kill (pK) ratio was also
far less than predicted, with Sidewinder launches only hitting
targets 25% of the time in the most favorable reports (on average,
the pK ratio of all Vietnam War Sidewinder launches combined was
10%) --- far from the promised 90%.
The AIM-9E was developed at the behest of the US Air Force (USAF), making it
the first Sidewinder variant created expressly for that service (the
previous Sidewinders were all developed for the US Navy). Similarly,
AIM-9F was developed in Germany, making it the first Sidewinder
variant developed by a foreign country. The
AIM-9G and AIM-9H were
both developed for the US Navy. While the E and F models were
developed from the more common AIM-9B, the G and H were evolutions
of the US Navy's distinct AIM-9D.
looks almost identical to the AIM-9B, with the obvious exception of
a much longer nose. The general composition of the E~H Sidewinders is largely the
same as those of previous missiles (see the
AIM-9 page for a detailed description), though several components on
some of these new models are different. For example, the AIM-9E has
a more finely-tapered nosecone with a new seeker head, and boasts a
new thermoelectric cooling system (also referred to as a "Peltier
system") for the seeker. The importance of the new cooling system
used by the AIM-9E cannot be overstated, as it allowed the seeker
head to be cooled indefinitely until the missile was launched. The
glass seeker window on the tip of the nosecone was replaced by a new
example, made of magnesium fluoride, which has greater infrared
All four of the second generation Sidewinders,
including the E~H are
infrared-guided, but their guidance was markedly improved over the
first generation. In addition to a higher infrared resolution, the
AIM-9E's seeker also boasts a faster 100 Hz reticle rate, and a 16.5
deg/sec tracking rate. It is less clear as to what changes were made
with the AIM-9F's guidance system, though they reportedly resulted
in an improved pK ratio. All four models
still use the lead sulfide seeker element of the preceding
The motors used in nearly all of these missiles are the same
as those from the AIM-9B (Thiokol/ Mk.17), and the AIM-9C and AIM-9D
(Hercules Mk.36). The exception was the improved AIM-9E-2 variant,
which boasted a reduced-smoke version of the Mk.17 that was
co-produced by Aerojet. These all accelerated the AIM-9E~H to a
speed of approximately Mach 2.5 (3 087 km/h), within seconds after launch, by
which time the propellant has already been expended. The AIM-9H was
also given an even further improved motor, made by Hercules Bermite,
in the form of the Mk.36 Mod. 5,6, or 7 (depending on which phase of
production a given AIM-9H was built in).
The AIM-9E and F still retain the same warhead as the AIM-9B
(HE-FRAG), and the AIM-9G uses the same warhead as the AIM-9D (Mk.48
continuous rod). An improved version of the Mk.48 continuous rod is
installed in the AIM-9H. As with the preceding missiles in the
series, these warheads were powerful enough that a single Sidewinder
could potentially shoot-down any aircraft with a single direct hit.
It is unclear exactly how many of these missiles were
produced, as different sources have produced different claims.
AIM-9E: ~ 5 000
AIM-9F: No figure given
AIM-9G: 2 120 ~ 20 000
AIM-9H: 3 000+
7 700 units
It would therefore seem that the exact production figures for
these four Sidewinder models have thus far eluded the public, as
these publications are in strong disagreement.
It is also unclear how many AIM-9F Sidewinders were produced,
and no internet sources present an exact figure (if they have any at
all). They were all converted from European-built AIM-9Bs that
numbered some 15 000 in total, so no more than that many could have
been converted, but the number is still unclear; many AIM-9Bs would
have been expended disposed of, or lost by then, and some air arms
might have preferred not to convert their AIM-9Bs for some reason
(e.g., budgetary constraints, too few remaining, skipping the AIM-9F
for a later variant, etc.).
As with the AIM-9B Sidewinder, the E, F, G, and H models were
very long-lived in operational service. Exactly how long they've
remained in service is unclear, through given that some air arms
still use the AIM-9B, some of these four newer missiles are probably
still operational as well.
The AIM-9E saw some combat use in Southeast Asia, achieving 6
The AIM-9E, AIM-9G, and AIM-9H were all rebuilt by Philco-Ford
Aerospace, with considerable assistance from Raytheon. The AIM-9F
was produced in Germany by BGT (Bodensee Gerätetechnik),
predominately for sale to NATO air arms.
Production of all four of these missiles ended by the
mid-1970s, and any remaining serviceable examples are nearing their
expiration dates. They are no longer available for production, and
assuming any of them are still available for export, they are
probably only worth their scrap value.
Sidewinder: Upgraded AIM-9B for the USAF, with an improved seeker
head. Around 5 000 AIM-9Bs were converted into AIM-9Es.
AIM-9E-2 Sidewinder: Same as the AIM-9E, but with a
AIM-9F Sidewinder: European development of the AIM-9B,
similar to the AIM-9E, but with a different seeker head. It was
developed by BGT in Germany. Most European AIM-9Bs were converted to AIM-9F standard.
AIM-9G Sidewinder: New missile based on the overall design of
the AIM-9D, but with an improved seeker head.
ATM-9G Sidewinder: Captive air training version of the
AIM-9G. It has ballasts in place of the engine and warhead, and is
used in training exercises to lock-onto other aircraft in mock
AIM-9H Sidewinder: This is basically an AIM-9G with
substantial reliability improvements. The AIM-9H introduced solid
state electronics, an improved warhead, and a thermal battery (which
replaced the turbo-alternator used in the AIM-9D). The AIM-9H was
also given an improved motor, made by Hercules Bermite,
in the form of the Mk.36 Mod 5,6, or 7 (depending on which phase of
production a given AIM-9H was built in). An improved version of the
Mk.48 Continuous Rod is installed in the AIM-9H. This missile has a
virtually identical exterior to that of the AIM-9G. It entered service with the US Navy in 1972.
ATM-9H Sidewinder: These are basically ATM-9Gs upgraded to
carry the seeker head of the AIM-9H.
Designated AA-2C or Atoll by the West, this is an improved version
of the preceding
(Western designation AA-2) missile, which was a direct duplicate of
the AIM-9B. The R-13 itself was developed from a reverse-engineered
AIM-9D, but enough modifications were made that it visibly differs
in appearance. However, it is closer in performance to the AIM-9D,
than to the E, F, G, and H models.
R.550 Magic: A contemporary of the AIM-9H, the French R.550
Magic is broadly similar to the Sidewinder, but is immediately
distinguished by having two tandem sets of forward fins. A notable
internal difference is its seeker element, which is cryogenically
cooled with liquid nitrogen. Being shorter and lighter than the
Sidewinder, and having a larger fin area, the Magic is likely much
more maneuverable than the AIM-9H as well.
Shafrir-2: A rapid follow-up of the Shafrir-1 missile (which
was immediately deemed a failure), Israel's Shafrir-2 became
operational too late for the Six Day War or the War of Attrition,
but it earned great fame in the Yom Kippur War --- and 89 confirmed
kills. It is broadly similar to most Sidewinders, but visibly
shorter at 2.5 m, and fatter with a fuselage diameter of 150 mm.
TC-2: This Taiwanese missile is very close in capabilities
and attributes to the AIM-9H, but it is slightly smaller. However,
as the TC-2 was introduced in the mid-1980s, it was largely obsolete
even before its debut. The "TC" in its name is short for Tien Chien,
or "Sky Sword", which is also an alternate title for this weapon.
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