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AIM-9F Sidewinder

Short-range air-to-air missile

AIM-9F Sidewinder

The AIM-9F was European development of the AIM-9B, similar to the AIM-9E, but with a different seeker head

 
 
Country of origin Germany
Entered service 1969
Missile
Missile length 2.83 m
Missile diameter 0.13 m
Fin span 0.56 m
Missile weight 70 kg
Warhead weight 4.5 kg
Warhead type HE-FRAG
Range of fire ~ 4.2 km
Guidance Infrared homing

 

   Created 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, the AIM-9F was developed and produced in Germany, making it the first Sidewinder variant developed by a foreign country. The AIM-9F was produced by BGT (Bodensee Gerätetechnik), predominately for sale to NATO air arms. Both the -E and -F models were developed from the more common AIM-9B.

   The AIM-9F is identical in shape to the AIM-9B, and seems to differ only in a slightly greenish sensor window. See the AIM-9 page for a detailed description of the AIM-9B for comparison.

   The general composition of the AIM-9F Sidewinder is largely the same as those of previous missiles, though several components of this new model were different. The AIM-9F followed a different design philosophy from the AIM-9E, with a new version of the AIM-9B's seeker window (which has the aforementioned characteristic green color), a carbon dioxide cooling system, and solid state electronics.

   The AIM-9F, as well as all four of the second generation Sidewinders (E, F, G and H models) are infrared-guided, but their guidance was markedly improved over the first generation. It is unclear 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 Sidewinders.

   The motor used in the AIM-9F is the same as that from the AIM-9B (Thiokol/ Mk.17). It accelerated the missile 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-9E and F missiles still retain the same High Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) warhead as the AIM-9B. 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 AIM-9F Sidewinders were produced. 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 -F model was 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 newer missiles are probably still operational as well.

   Little of the AIM-9F's service record has been published, but a number of publications have mentioned it has seen service with foreign air arms as well, notably Egypt from the mid-1970s onward. This would likely have introduced the AIM-9F into Egyptian service in time for Libya's disastrous war with the former in the late 1970s, which saw the Egyptian Air Force inflict considerable damage on the Libyan Air Force. Most Eastern Bloc fighters still in service at the time carried AIM-9 Sidewinders instead of the R-3S (Western reporting name AA-2 or Atoll) missiles they had originally been delivered with, and as these were relatively recent-model Sidewinders, they proved brutally effective --- some of these might have been AIM-9Fs (though in Egypt's Mig-21 fighters, which achieved the most success, used AIM-9Ps).

   Production of the AIM-9F 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.

 

Similar weapons

 

   R-13: Designated AA-2C or Atoll by the West, this is an improved version of the preceding R-3S (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: 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 Sidewinder 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 Sidewinder, 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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