Developers can come up with new generations of air-to-air missiles, but will air forces want them on their fighter aircraft?
This is more or less the dilemma faced by Rafael, the Israeli company that has developed some of the most advanced air-to-air missiles in the world.
As I reported in Flight International, Rafael is developing an advanced air-to-air missile.
The Python-5 is the current air-to-air missile made by the company. The weapon is used by the Israeli air force and other forces consider it to be one of the most advanced 5th generation air-to-air missiles.
The company has admitted that it is working on a very advanced new missile.
Experts have wondered whether air forces will need an air-to-air missile that can hit the enemy in ranges beyond the effective ones of existing radars? And they have asked, who will want to launch towards a target that is hundreds of kilometres away?
This is the problem, and combined with the huge sums of money involved in the development of new generations of air-to-air missiles, it is becoming crucial.
So, range is not a dominant factor, but sensors and agility are.
Thus far, the Israeli company has only admitted that is developing “building blocks” for a 6th generation missile.
Rafael said that the ‘Stunner’ missile, developed for the ‘David’s Sling’ rocket interceptor system, is the basis for any 6th generation missile that it may develop.
As reported by Flight, the advanced dual sensors to be used in future air-to-air missiles developed by Rafael will probably involve the ‘Dolphin Head’ nose section used in the Stunner.
The Dolphin Head shape allows the two seekers to function simultaneously with no interference, even in “extreme conditions”.
The dual seeker and the special boosters are needed to intercept rockets or cruise missiles.
So, sensitive seekers and agility will probably be there. Range? This is a big question.
The result, as always, will probably be a compromise between the “dreams” of combat pilots, the technical capability of the developers and the decisions of those who control the budget.
The air-to-air missiles will, without any doubt, continue to merely touch upon the limits of some technologies.