In development to meet the requirements of the German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish air forces, the IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missile will deliver an alternative to MBDA's ASRAAM, Raytheon's AIM-9X Sidewinder and the Python family of weapons produced by Israel's Rafael Armament Development Authority.

A development team headed by Germany's BGT completed a series of seven guided firings of the imaging infrared-guided missile last October, scoring seven direct hits against airborne targets. While not equipped with a warhead for the trials, the design succeeded in destroying a number of Meteor Mirach 100/5 target drones.

Already cleared for future integration with Lockheed Martin's F-16, the IRIS-T last month also recorded its first two in a series of seven separation firings from a Eurofighter Typhoon. Conducted from the Salto di Quirra test range in Sardinia, using Alenia's Eurofighter development aircraft DA7, these initial launches will be followed by further firings in the May/June timeframe. The weapon is scheduled to clear digital integration with the Typhoon platform in 2006, says BGT.

A multinational production contract for the manufacture of around 4,000 IRIS-T missiles is on track for award in early 2005, following the signature of a memorandum of understanding late last year between the six partner nations and Germany's BWB procurement agency. The system will arm, Panavia Tornado, Saab/BAE Systems JAS39 Gripen, F-16 and Typhoon fighters.

Germany has so far committed to buying 1,250 missiles from its planned total requirement for 1,800 rounds, with Spain holding the next largest need, at around 700. First weapon deliveries are expected in 2006.

Mirroring a growing trend among air-to-air missile manufacturers, BGT is also offering the IRIS-T for use as a ground-launched point defence weapon. Initial demonstrations succeeded in attracting German government backing, and development work will start next year on an enhanced surface-launched version of the missile. This will have three times the range of the current missile, an enlarged 152mm (6in)-diameter rocket motor and a datalink capability to enable beyond line-of-sight engagements.

The planned vertical-launched weapon will augment Germany's Lockheed Martin Patriot PAC-3-based Medium Extended Air Defence System from around 2010, with eight missiles to be carried on a launcher-equipped Unimog 5000 truck. Two trucks will be carried inside an Airbus Military A400M transport.

A more limited air defence system using unmodified IRIS-T missiles could be fielded sooner, if customers emerge for such a concept, says BGT.

Source: Flight International