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Air-to-air missiles, known to the military as Air-Interceptor Missiles (AIM), became an important part of fighter combat after World War II. The U.S. military has been developing and refining them since 1946. The earliest jet fighters carried the AIM-4 Falcon, modern fighters including the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, and F/A-18 Hornet typically use the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM. Combat UAVs such as the MQ-9 Reaper also carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Air-to-air missiles have played a key role in allowing the U.S. military to establish and maintain air superiority in all major conflicts since World War II.
Operational Factors of Air-to-Air Missiles
An air-to-air missile is a weapon fired by one aircraft against another aircraft while both are in the air. Some air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-4 Falcon, have also been used experimentally against ground targets.
Missiles evolved along three parallel tracks: guidance systems, range, and warheads. The first air-to-air missile, the AIM-4 Falcon, had limited range and lethality, and could only be used in rear-aspect engagements. The AIM-120 AMRAAM, by contrast, is a fire-and-forget missile that can be launched from a safe distance regardless of aspect.
The goal of air-to-air missiles is to allow fighters and interceptors to destroy enemy aircraft before they can engage friendly forces, whether airborne or on the ground. Missiles such as the AIM-9 and AIM-120 have fulfilled their mission goals so well that they are being added to the latest jet fighters and combat drones.
Chart of Air-to-Air Missiles
In this chart of U.S. military air-to-air missiles, click on the photo link to go to the page of photos and information for the missile.
Recommended Books about Military Air-to-Air Missiles