Venomous rattlesnake: AIM-9 Sidewinder

Venomous rattlesnake: AIM-9 Sidewinder

Роман Приходько Роман Приходько
Europe USA World Україна

The transfer of AIM-9 missiles from the United States and Canada to Ukraine expands our country’s air defense potential. The ability to use them on different platforms will ensure the unification of the product, and lower the cost of their purchase. The missile can be used by NASAMS ground systems and potentially MiG-29 and Su-27 aircraft, but to fully realize its capabilities, the missile must be integrated into the aircraft’s fire control system.

History of appearance

Studies of guided air-to-air weapons were carried out during World War II in the United Kingdom, but none of the projects of the early 1940s have been further developed. The development of fast and shunting fighters after World War II doubted the use by fighter aircraft of the common for that time of 20-30 mm caliber guns.

Starting in the mid-1940s, the United States was rethinking the tactics of air battles, based on German developments in air-to-air missiles. To create a promising product in the interests of the U.S. Air Force, Hughes Aircraft decided to develop a missile from scratch.

At the same time, in 1946, the development of the missile under the 602 Program began. The initiative for the development belonged to Professor William McLean and was conducted at China Lake Station. The missile, after testing, was called Sidewinder. Until 1951, work was carried out through volunteer donations, as well as the professor’s own budget.

That year, naval admirals became interested in the project of a guided air-to-air missile, and accepted the missile for testing. The name Sidewinder was given after the venomous rattlesnake, which uses the infrared range for hunting.

The U.S. Navy did not see much use in the missile, but after rumors that the U.S. Air Force was developing a similar weapon under the AIM-4 Falcon designation, the desire to get their own missile immediately increased. For political reasons, the U.S. Air Force and Navy never had a warm relationship, so purchasing an AIM-4 missile for naval aviation was unthinkable.

Due to the early development of Sidewinder, the U.S. Navy was able to bring the missile to the desired configuration in a short time. The first tests were launched in 1951, and already in September 1953, a full launch took place with the rocket engine turned on. In 1954, the rocket successfully destroyed the drone in the air for the first time.

Before adoption in 1956, the missile underwent some design changes and received an improved design. Infrared homing has become better at lock-on targets, and ignoring thermal decoys.

The first five years of using the rocket were very progressive. A simple and modular design ensured good missile maneuverability, and the use of a technically better infrared homing dealt a devastating blow to the prestige of the AIM-4 missile developed by the U.S. Air Force, which was not fully liked by either the department or pilots.

Launched in 1967, the United States air campaign over Vietnam only confirmed the AIM-9’s superiority over the Falcon missile, which the United States Air Force, with a heavy heart, decided to use as the main short-range air-to-air missile. This was the second victory of naval missiles over the USAF (the first victory was the order of AIM-7 missiles).

Technical specifications

Throughout its existence, the missile has received many versions and upgrades. Most of them are no longer in service, so we will consider the two most common versions of the missile – AIM-9M and AIM-9X.

In addition, there are subtypes of major modifications, as a result of which the AIM-9M and X missiles receive updated software or an improved algorithm of operation to provide better performance.


The M version was developed in the early 1980s and combined all the capabilities of the previous L version. The upgrade took into account the experience of using AIM-9L during the Falklands War, where both Sea Harrier and Harrier aircraft used them to destroy Argentine aircraft.

The missile received more massive steering, to provide better maneuverability, a new infrared homing, and an upgraded Hercules Mk.36 Mod.9 engine. The use of its predecessor during the Falkland War demonstrated excellent target lock-on capabilities, so in the new version, the developers paid attention to the cooling of the matrix, which ensured the long operation of the head.

The maximum range of the missile at a fixed target is 21 km.


The X version was a complete rethink of the short-range missile. The new MK-139 rocket engine increased the maximum range to 30 km (21 km in the M version) on a fixed target, as well as the maximum speed of the missile. The missile received a more advanced LOAL (lock-on after launch system), which was perfectly suited to the guided correction of the missile through the Link 16 dataline.

The standard infrared homing head was replaced with an infrared camera, which improved the ability to lock on to a target and track it. The infrared camera was less sensitive to thermal obstacles from the enemy. The missile received a radio reception system, which added the ability to use the radio adjustment mode when shooting at maximum ranges.

The warhead of the missile remained at 9 kg, and with detonation on a laser beam.

Use in Ukraine

The first announcement of the transfer of AIM-9M missiles was made by Anita Anand, Minister of Defense of Canada, in May 2023. According to her, Canada will transfer 43 AIM-9M missiles to Ukraine from the country’s air forces. In addition, at the end of August 2023, the United States announced a new package of assistance that included AIM-9M missiles.

Most likely, missiles of this type will be used by the stationary anti-aircraft missile system, NASAMS. This type of SAM has launchers with an advanced mounting system, so it is possible to use Sidewinder, AMRAAM, and AMRAAM-ER missiles.

Sidewinder, as part of the NASAMS air defense system, acts as a missile for the direct protection of the complex itself, as well as for the destruction of shunting and small-sized targets. The use of AMRAAM missiles provides interception of targets at large distances, and the use of active radar homing gives the missile more time to search for the target.


In addition, it is possible that the missile will be used by the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Countries that use Soviet/Russian-made aircraft are conducting a number of studies on the integration of Western weapons on these aircraft.

Thus, for example, India carried out work on the integration of Israeli-made missiles in Su-30MKI fighters.

The I-Derby is designed for use on a variety of platforms and provides compatibility with most launchers used by Western countries as well as those using Soviet-type launchers.

Regarding the aircraft of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, theoretically, the use of the AIM-9 missile is possible without integration into the aircraft armament system; the main factor will be the connection of the missile to the suspension unit and the power supply of the missile from onboard systems.

The American missile is equipped with a more modern control unit and an infrared homing head, in comparison with its Soviet counterpart, R-73М. In addition to the technical advantages, AIM-9 has great potential for modernization, and its use as part of the air forces of some countries is estimated to last until the end of the 21st century.

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