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Short-range air-to-air missile

AIM-82 air-to-air missile

The AIM-82 was almost the USAF's replacement for the AIM-9 Sidweinder, but the program was terminated very early in development

Country of origin United States
Entered service -
Missile length ~ 2.5 m
Missile diameter ~ 0.12 m
Fin span ~ 0.85 m
Missile weight ~ 140 kg
Warhead weight ~ 10 kg
Warhead type ?
Range of fire ~ 16 km
Guidance Infrared homing


   The AIM-82 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.

   The AIM-82 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.

   The AIM-82 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.

   Interest in 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).

   Little of 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 below.

   Similarly, 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.

   The proposed 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 rhombus.

   Likewise, 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.

   One notable 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.

   No details 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 early 1970s.

   Even while 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".

   However, the 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 effect.

   The 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 MiG-21MF, in 1,000 encounters each. Four of the aircraft were F-4s armed with the 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 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

   The results of the TAC Avenger simulation were the following exchange ratios.


   F-4E versus MiG-21MF

   w/AIM-9E: 1-to-4.7

   w/AIM-9J: 1-to-6

   w/AIM-9K: 1.2-to-1

   w/AIM-82: 5-to-1


   FX versus MiG-21MF

   w/AIM-9E: 18-to-1

   w/AIM-9J: 22-to-1

   w/AIM-9K: 245-to-1

   w/AIM-82: 955-to-1


   The results 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 so on.

   These were 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).

   Gen. James 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!"

   Needless to 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.

   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 F-15 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.

   The AIM-82 has since been largely forgotten by history, despite the ambition of its design.


Similar weapons


   AIM-9J 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.

   AIM-9L 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.

   AIM-95 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 service.

   AIM-132 ASRAAM: This European short-range missile is broadly similar to the AIM-95 Agile, although it isn't a tube-launched munition.

   R-73: 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 class.

   R-60: 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.

   Python-3: 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.



   Article by BLACKTAIL

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AIM-82 air-to-air missile

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AIM-82 air-to-air missile

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AIM-82 air-to-air missile

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AIM-82 air-to-air missile

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