Germany plans to supply the latest IRIS-T SL ground-based air-defense systems to the Ukrainian military in the coming weeks. The news came in an August 23 statement from Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock. The latest government data from Germany shows that Berlin aims to send three additional IRIS-T air defence systems to Ukraine. Earlier, in the Bundestag, deputies agreed to increase the supply of arms to Ukraine, even if this had the effect of temporarily weakening the German army. There is sufficient budget to fund the delivery of four IRIS-T systems at an undisclosed future date instead of one originally promised by Berlin.
The IRIS-T (“InfraRed Imaging System Tail/Thrust Vector-Controlled”) is a German-led program to develop a short to medium range infrared homing air-to-air missile to replace the AIM-9 Sidewinder found in some NATO member countries. Any aircraft capable of firing the Sidewinder is also capable of launching the IRIS-T. The IRIS-T surface launched anti-aircraft missile system is the latest medium-range air defense system. In its latest incarnation, the engine power has been increased and the homing head replaced with a radar. The operating range is up to 40 kilometers and the target detection range is 250 kilometers.
Within the MEADS program, the German Air Force plans to integrate a surface-launched (SL) radar-guided version of the missile, called IRIS-T SL. It has a pointed nose, unlike the regular IRIS-T, with a jettisonable drag-reducing nose cone. The missile uses GPS-based inertial navigation system and radar data link for command guidance during the initial approach, while the interference-resistant IR seeker head is activated at the terminal stage. Compared to the IRIS-T, diameter of the rocket motor is increased to 152 mm. The IRIS-T SL qualification tests were completed during January 2015 at the Denel Overberg Test Range in South Africa.
Two variants are available, IRIS-T SLS (short-range) and IRIS-T SLM (medium range); IRIS-T SLX (long range) variant with dual-mode seeker is in development as of April 2022. Operational testing of IRIS-T SLM was completed in January 2022. The latter system demonstrated its operational efficiency under realistic operating conditions during several successful test firings and thus satisfied the expectations with regard to modern air defence systems to full extent. The firings served as evidence for the technical and operational capability of the overall system in line with consumer and market expectations.