Warplanes: June 19, 2000


AIR-TO-AIR MISSILE COMPETITION ON TWO FRONTS: Modern air-to-air missiles are competing on two fronts: in the skies over battlefields and in the marketplace. The selection by Eurofighter of the Matra-BAe Meteor complicates the field, but does not fundamentally change the dynamics. Things got complicated when the US and Europe agreed in the 80s that the US would develop AMRAAM, which Europe would buy, and Europe would develop ASRAAM (Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile) to replace Sidewinder, and the US would buy it. With such market dominance, this might have frozen Third World missiles out of the market. But the US reneged on
the deal, upgrading Sidewinder instead of buying ASRAAM. The US claims that ASRAAM took too long to reach its potential, and that the short-range fight had become less and less likely. BEYOND VISUAL RANGE Missiles include the following:

@ AIM-120 AMRAAM: The current champion, used by the US and its allies. Rocket powered, the US is planning to skip the Ramjet generation and move to an entirely new kind of rocket motor. The US can sell AMRAAMs to anyone it wants to, or rather anyone it is willing to. This has previously been restricted to close allies, but the US is now opening up the market for AMRAAM to include Arab states and others.

@ METEOR: With its ramjet engine pushing it beyond 60 miles and its high maneuverability, METEOR should become the best Western missile by 2008, if AMRAAM does not install its improvements first. 

@ SPARROW: The previous (Vietnam) generation of US missiles, still used by some countries.

@ ALAMO (Russian R27 or AA10): Includes semi-active radar, active-radar, infrared, and passive infrared versions. Long the best Russian BVR missile, it surpassed Sparrow but never caught AMRAAM. Russia is reportedly working on new versions designated K74 and K30. Ukraine is now marketing a passive homing version of the R-27, built in the former Vympel factory. 

@ ADDER: Vympel's best missile, the R77 or AA-12 Adder, was delayed entering service by the collapse of the USSR and the need for Vympel to move its factory back to Russia from Ukraine. After Russian fighters get
this missile later this year, it is to be sold to India, Malaysia, and China. The current rocket-powered version is to be replaced with ramjet power for increased range.

@ MICA is the French competition to AMRAAM, but its market was limited by the fact it was too expensive to qualify it for fire from US-built aircraft. 

@ ALTO (Derby) is the Israeli entry into the BVR category. The Israelis have the marketing advantage in that they can qualify it for use from US-built aircraft without the permission of the US government. Rocket-powered versions are expected to give way to ramjet power. 

@ R-DARTER is a South African BVR missile based on Israeli (and through Israel, on US) technology. It will be cleared for us by the Swedish-built Gryphons.

@ India, Japan, and China are reportedly working on their own BVR programs. 

WITHIN VISUAL RANGE Missiles include the following:

@ SIDEWINDER: The most successful Western air-to-air missile in history, with short-range heat-seeking guidance. Steadily upgraded for decades. The latest version, the AIM-9X, is expected to be the last of the breed and its replacement will be a new missile with a new motor and a focal-plane seeker. The US may even opt for a dual-range missile that could fulfill both the BVR and WVR missions.

@ APHID (Russian R-60 or AA-8) was the first attempt to match Sidewinder. 

@ ARCHER (Russian R-73 or AA-11) was much more effective than Aphid, and was superior to Sidewinder. More recent Sidewinders have regained a slight edge, but only because the Russian company, Vympel, was delayed by its move from Ukraine to Russia.

@ PYTHON-4 is the Israeli copy of Sidewinder. By the fourth generation, it was superior to most sidewinders. Singapore has bought it, as have some South American air forces. Python-4 (the export version) offers a dual-band infrared seeker designed to avoid decoys. The Israeli-use-only version of Python-4 uses a tri-band seeker that is much more effective in avoiding decoys. The Israelis want to go to a focal-plane-array (which actually detects the shape of an aircraft) for Python-5, but only the US can build these and buying US technology (if the US would even sell it) would mean submitting to US control over export sales.

@ IRIS is the German version of Sidewinder.

@ MICA-2 is the French missile in this category.

@ DARTER is the South African entry, another copy of Sidewinder. --Stephen V Cole




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