Germany’s Diehl Defence has a history of presenting adaptive missile solutions and is highlighting two key innovations at the Singapore Airshow.
One is the design of the company’s IRIS-T (InfraRed Imaging System-Tail/Thrust Vector Controlled) short-range air-to-air missile (AAM). Among other customers for this weapon system, the Royal Thai Air Force now employs the missile on its Saab JAS-39 C/D Gripens, Northrop F-5s, and Lockheed Martin F-16s, where it has replaced the previous-generation U.S. AIM-9L Sidewinder.
The advantage of having the IRIS-T over other options, explained a company representative, is not only that it is a significant leap in performance over the older-model AIM-9L but it also doubles as an air defense weapon.
“Other companies utilize an AAM in an air defense role, but unlike those missiles, the IRIS-T need not be produced in some special ‘for ground-launch only’ version,” he explained. “In most of the air defense applications for the IRIS-T you can literally remove the missile from an airplane and carry it over to and fit it to a ground launcher and vice versa. It is an interchangeable missile solution.”
The other aspect of the IRIS-T is that in an air defense application, integration issues between the missile and the radar system that is providing targeting data are minimized. “With other missiles, there has to be a talkback link between the radar and the missile’s guidance system, which can cause export licensing issues where U.S. radar systems are involved,” he continued. “With the IRIS-T, the talkback is between the missile and the [also Diehl-produced] launcher, which eliminates many of those problems."
In November 2019, Diehl received a contract for the development and production of a new mobile ground-based air defense system for Norway that will use the IRIS-T. The missile will be fired from the Diehl IRIS-T SLS launcher, which is similar to the ground-based air defense system in service with the Swedish military and will include key elements from the Kongsberg National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System.
A Diehl Defence spokesman said, “Norway is now the second country after Sweden that employs the IRIS-T SLS to safeguard its airspace. The new system will provide a unique capability to protect the Norwegian forces during their maneuver operations.”
The second type of innovation is for the older model AIM-9L models that are being displaced by the IRIS-T procurements. Diehl retains all of the design and modification authority of an OEM for the AIM-9, so the company has now swapped out the older model IR seeker with a semi-active laser seeker. This turns the missile into a precision air-to-ground weapon that can be employed against both mobile and stationary targets.
Another Diehl engineer responsible for this program with the Diehl Retrofit Missile Systems division explained that this Laser-Guided Sidewinder is “a perfect weapon for a counterinsurgency mission. If you do not want to destroy an entire building, as you would with a Hellfire, but you only need to take out one room or one apartment in that building, this is a perfect solution.”