The AIM-9 Sidewinder: 67 years in service are not enough

The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a highly successful and widely used infrared air-to-air missile that has been in service for more than 50 years, and remains a key part of the arsenal of many Air Forces.

The missile’s development began in the late-1940s, immediately after the end of World War II, when the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) initiated a program to develop infrared homing missiles on its own initiative.

The AIM-9 Sidewinder: 67 years in service are not enough
By USN – Official U.S. Navy photograph [1] from the USS Ranger (CV-61) 1982 Cruise Book., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18576089

AIM-9 Sidewinder Versions

The first tests of the missile were conducted in 1952, and in 1953 the Air Force tested the first version of the missile, the AIM-9A.

The AIM-9 Sidewinder: 67 years in service are not enough
By USN – U.S. Navy Naval Museum of Armament and Technology [1] Sidewinder photo, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11742625

The AIM-9B version entered service in 1956, and early versions of the missile used an infrared seeker to “lock on” to the rear-aspect of the target.

The AIM-9C version of the missile, which entered service in the 1960s, used semi-active radar guidance (SARH) instead of an infrared seeker.

Later versions, such as the AIM-9L/M/P/X, were capable of “locking on” to targets from all directions (all-aspect), and featured improvements in range, which increased from 5 km in the first versions to 35 km in the AIM-9X.

The AIM-9 Sidewinder: 67 years in service are not enough
By U.S. Navy – U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1996.488.022.024, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11855314

Apart from its standard operation as air-to-air, the AIM-9X can also be used as surface-to-air by the anti-aircraft system NASAMS. In addition, air-to-ground versions such as the AGM-122 SIDEARM (anti-radar) were developed, as well as a modified version of the AIM-9L for use against vehicles.

It is worth noting, however, that the course of the AIM-9 on the field has not been without challenges. In its first presence in the Vietnam War, its performance was not particularly satisfactory.

However, through continuous development and improvement, the AIM-9 has become a key asset for the combat aircraft of many countries.

To Sum Up

Overall, the AIM-9 Sidewinder’s success can be attributed to its continuous development and adaptation to changing warfare environments. Its ability to “lock on” to targets from all directions, and its increased range and versatility in air-to-air and air-to-ground operations, make it a valuable asset to air forces around the world.

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