January 9, 2013: Strategy Page
Turkey has ordered another 123 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. This is the latest version and shows how far this missile has come since the first Sidewinder entered service in the 1950s. The 9X-2 can lock-on-after-launch. That is, the missile can be fired and then directed to a target via a datalink. That means it can be fired at ground targets or at an enemy aircraft behind you. The X-2 version also makes improvements in the warhead fuze and other components. As impressive as all these features, most are already found in similar missiles made in several other countries (including Russia and China). In effect, the X-2 version is just keeping up. What the U.S. sells, in addition, is an impressive track record of reliability and actually performing as expected in combat. Over 4,000 X model Sidewinders have been built since it entered service in 2003. Block II (X-2) entered service four years ago and costs about half a million dollars each.
Although over half a century old, the Sidewinder has been the most effective air-to-air missile ever produced. The first Sidewinder (AIM-9B) was 3 meters (9.3 feet) long, weighed 71 kg (156 pounds), and had a max range of five kilometers. The most current model, the AIM-9X, is the same size and weighs 87 kg (191 pounds) with a max range of over 20 kilometers. All models have a warhead weighing about 10 kg (22 pounds). The AIM-9X can go after the target from all angles, while the AIM-9B could only be used from directly behind the target. The AIM-9X is about seven times more likely to bring down the target than the AIM-9B. The 9X entered service in 2000, but the older 9M is nearly as accurate, although more expensive to upgrade.
The AIM-9 is a heat seeking missile, and the heat sensors have become much more sensitive since the first AIM-9 entered service over half a century ago. The current versions of the missile work by detecting a heat source at the point where the pilot is looking. This is done using the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems), which allows a pilot to see, displayed on his visor, critical flight and navigation information. Sort of like a see-through computer monitor or HUD (Head Up Display). Most importantly, the pilot can turn his head towards a target, get an enemy aircraft or ground target into the crosshairs displayed on the visor, and fire a missile that will promptly go after the target the pilot was looking at. For Sidewinder the pilot has to be looking at something giving off enough heat to catch the attention of the missile's heat sensor. With the X-2 Sidewinder the pilot can launch the missile before he has located the target via the JHMCS, saving a critical few seconds.
In addition to the JHMCS, the U.S. has also supplied Turkey with source code for F-16 fire control and flight system software, so that Turkey can modify F-16 software to use Turkish made weapons and equipment. This will be part of a Turkish refurbishment of 213 of their F-16s. This will cost about $5.2 million per aircraft and includes a lot of Turkish made equipment. Over the last decade Turkey has been producing more military gear locally and now produces over half its military equipment needs.
But most major items of equipment are still obtained from foreign suppliers. For example, six years ago Turkey bought another 30 F-16C Block 50 fighters, for over $60 million each. This gave Turkey one of the largest F-16s fleets (nearly 250) in the world.