The first airborne launches of the six-nation IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missile were performed by a Greek air force Lockheed Martin F-16 between 17-23 October under subsonic, supersonic and high-g conditions.

The three firings clear the way for the highly agile, infrared (IR)-guided missile to be trialled on other aircraft types including the Saab/BAE Systems Gripen, Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, Panavia Tornado and Aermacchi/Embraer AMX. Integration tests with the Eurofighter will follow once a test aircraft is available.

Deliveries of initial production missiles are due in 2002, followed by full-scale production in 2003.

Prime contractor BGTof Germany says the Greek tests were designed to "evaluate the missile separation characteristics from the aircraft under various predetermined flight conditions". The company describes the trials as "successful", but adds that precise performance data is classified.

Canada, Italy, Norway and Sweden are participating in the programme alongside Germany and Greece, and the six are negotiating a memorandum of understanding over production contracts and workshare. Spain, which is considering equipping its Eurofighters with IRIS-T, has been given observer status. "We already have several other nations interested in the IRIS-T," claims BGT.

The industrial consortium is working under the leadership of German procurement agency BWB and includes Alenia, BGT, FiatAvio, GPCC, Honeywell Canada, Intracom, Litton Italia, Raufoss and Saab Dynamics.

Although the initial airborne launches were unguided, IRIS-Thas an imaging IR seeker.

The first ground-based launches of the IRIS-T were performed in March in Sardinia, Italy, following captive-carry trials to test the seeker and bench tests of the solid-fuel rocket motor.

Plans for further airborne live firings are being finalised but are likely to take place during the next few months, says BGT.

Source: Flight International