The incredible AIM-9 Sidewinder missile: did you know about its amazing features?


The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a heat-seeking supersonic air-to-air missile carried by fighter aircraft. It has a high-explosive warhead and a heat-seeking infrared guiding system.

The US Navy developed the Sidewinder for fleet air defense, and the US Air Force adopted it for fighter aircraft use. Early missile variants were widely utilized in the battle in Southeast Asia.

AIM-9 Sidewinder Features

The AIM-9 missile has a cylindrical body with a rear wing/rolleron combination for roll stabilization. In addition, detachable double-delta control surfaces behind the missile’s nose enhance its mobility. Both the rollerons and the control surfaces have a cross-like configuration.

AIM-9M sidewinder

The missile’s main components are:

  • An infrared homing guidance section.
  • An active optical target detector.
  • A high-explosive warhead.
  • A rocket motor.

The missile’s infrared guidance head allows it to zero in on the target aircraft’s engine exhaust. An infrared unit is less expensive than other navigation systems and can be employed in day/night and electronic countermeasures environments.

The infrared seeker allows the pilot to fire the missile and then leave the area or perform evasive action as the missile navigates itself to its intended target all on its own.

A bit Background

In September 1953, a successful test firing was conducted with the AIM-9A, a Sidewinder prototype. The AIM-9B, the first production variant, was accepted into the inventory of the Air Force in 1956. At that time, it was only effective at close range.

It couldn’t attack targets close to the ground, nor could it attack at night or head-on. In later versions, developers dealt with these problems. 

The AIM-9J, an updated variant of the AIM-B and AIM-E, is superior in the air due to its increased speed, range, and maneuverability during dogfights. The first shipments, destined for the F-15 and other aircraft that could use Sidewinders, began in 1977.


The AIM-9L improved tracking and solid-propellant rocket motor power, and in addition, An active optical fuse improves the missile’s lethality and electronic countermeasure resistance.

Improved tracking stability and enhanced sensitivity were two benefits of the conical scan seeker. The L variant was the first production Sidewinder to include 360-degree attack capabilities. The AIM-9L went into production and distribution in 1976.

AIM-9L-I1 AIM-9M Sidewinder
AIM-9L-I1 AIM-9M Sidewinder Missile

The AIM-9P, an enhanced variant of the J model, has larger engagement boundaries, allowing it to be launched further away from the target. 

The more maneuverable P type also had upgraded solid-state electronics, which made it more reliable and easier to fix. Its Delivery started in 1978.

The AIM-9P-1 doesn’t have an infrared influence fuse. Instead, it has an active optical target detector. The AIM-9P-2 added a motor that makes less smoke.

The most recent version, the AIM-9P-3, featured a combination of two previously separate technologies: an active optical target detection and a reduced-smoke engine.

The company improved The warhead and the guidance and control system. The new explosive substance used in the upgraded warhead has greater stability and temperature tolerance.

The AIM-9M has all-aspect capability like the L type but is more powerful. The M variant includes improved infrared defense, background discrimination, and a low-smoke rocket motor.

AIM-9M Sidewinder missile
AIM-9M Sidewinder missile

These changes make it easier to find and lock on to a target and make it less likely that the missile will be seen. The M model’s Delivery started in 1983

The AIM-9M-9 has more circuitry to find infrared countermeasures.

Sidewinder’s most recent version is known as the AIM-9X. Both the rocket motor and the warhead of the AIM-9M are shared by the AIM-9X. Canards permanently mounted in front of the missile and fins scaled down in size are two of the most significant physical modifications made from earlier models.

The guidance portion has been updated with an infrared imaging seeker. The propulsion component now includes a jet-vane steering mechanism for improved post-launch agility.

To aid aircrews in their search for and engagement of targets, the X model is also compatible with the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System.

AIM-9 Sidewinder At a Glance

  • Introduction Date: 1956
  • Its Primary Function is Air-to-air missile
  •  Raytheon and Loral Martin are the contractors 
  • Its Power Plant is Hercules and Bermite Mk 36 Mod 11
  • In Length Its 9 feet, 5 inches (2.87 meters)
  • The total Diameter is 5 inches (0.13 meters)
  • Its Finspan is 2 feet, 3/4 inches (0.63 meters)
  • carries Annular blast fragmentation warhead
  • Launch Weight is 190 pounds (85.5 kilograms)
  • It works with a Solid-state, infrared homing system Guidance System.
  • Unit Cost depends on Variables, depending as the lot, quantity, and block
  • Inventory is Classified