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Will German IRIS-T SLM Air Defence systems emerge as a Russian Kalibr missile killer?

Germany has confirmed the shipment of IRIS-T SLM air defence systems (surface launched) to Ukraine. Ukraine intends to deploy these weapons along the coast of the Black Sea, in the Odesa area. This will reduce the possibility of Kalibr cruise missile assaults being successful.

German IRIS-T SLM air defense system
German IRIS-T SLM air defense system. Image via Energoatom

Germany has confirmed the shipment of IRIS-T SLM air defence systems (surface launched) to Ukraine. IRIS-T SLM is the export version of IRIS-T SL.

Anti-aircraft missile systems from Germany have arrived on Ukrainian soil and are being readied for deployment. According to preliminary data, Ukraine intends to deploy these weapons along the coast of the Black Sea, in the Odesa area; this will reduce the possibility of Kalibr cruise missile assaults being successful.

If these air defence systems are placed in the Odessa area, a major portion of the airspace would be blocked, but the effectiveness of German air defence systems is uncertain.

The IRIS-T SLM system is consistent with NATO standards, allowing you to direct the guidance of missiles from AWACS aircraft, which will significantly boost the probability of intercepting air targets.

The manufacturer, Diel, claims that the radar can identify and track all aerodynamic targets, including conventional and stealth aircraft, low-flying cruise missiles, hovering helicopters, and tiny unmanned aerial vehicles.

Ukraine will get another IRIS-T SLM air defence launcher and three radar sites before the end of the year.

GBAD System IRIS-T SLM for Ukraine

On 19 October, Diehl Defense issued a release stating it delivered a combat unit of the ground-based air defence system IRIS-T SLM to Ukraine. After the contract for the combat unit was signed in June 2022, the company and its partners HENSOLDT and Airbus’s swift fulfilment of the delivery obligation represents an extraordinary industrial performance. Additional IRIS-T SLM systems for Ukraine will be produced as rapidly as the manufacturing process permits.

The release said the company is the prime contractor and system integrator for IRIS-T SLM, as well as the launcher and the missiles supplier. HENSOLDT provides the multifunctional TRML-4D radar. Airbus is the provider of the Integrated Battle Management Software Fire Control (IBMS-FS) for the tactical operating centre.

Diehl Defence, HENSOLDT, and Airbus have long collaborated in ground-based air defence and provide, among other things, the IRIS-T SLM system, which is intended for medium ranges of 40 kilometres in the distance and 20 kilometres in height.

IRIS-T SLM air defence system

IRIS-T is the name of an air-to-air missile (that is, for use from an aircraft. – Ed.) of joint European development. IRIS-T SL is a modification of this rocket for launching it from the ground.

Work on the air-to-air missile started back in 1996. It was not even a pan-European, but an international project. In the initial stages, a Canadian company participated in the development. 

The list of countries and companies that participated in the development of the system includes – Diehl BGT from Germany developed an all-aspect infrared homing head; Fiat Aviazione from Italy developed the rocket engine; Saab from Sweden developed the data processing unit (“on-board computer”); Litton from Italy developed the inertial control system; Pyrkal from Greece developed the combat unit; Nammo or Nordic Ammunition Company from Norway/Finland developed the rocket engine, and Allied Signal from Canada developed engine nozzle and control rudders. The company withdrew from the project in 2002.

Tests of the air version of IRIS-T were completed in 2002, and Germany and other partners began procurement for their Air Force in 2003. In 2004,  Spain joined the initiative.

This missile is in service with the air forces of more than 15 nations; therefore, one may calculate its price using publicly available information. The IRIS-T missile fired from the air costs between €320 000 and €380 000 per unit. Similar in specs, the American AIM-9X missile costs around 600,000 dollars.

The missile was conceived as a ground-based air defence system (IRIS-T SL) from the beginning of its research and development. It was required to shoot from the ground; hence it was necessary to improve the flying range.

IRIS-T SLS – short-range air defence system; IRIS-T SLM – medium-range air defence; and IRIS-T SLX – long-range air defence system. 

Germany officially accepted it in 2017, but there has been no actual delivery to the military.

The system may engage in continuous combat operations with minimal personnel with a fully automated missile launch procedure.

The system can rapidly launch missiles at targets up to 40 kilometres away and 20 kilometres at altitude. The IRIS-T SLM air defence system has a “dead zone” of little under one kilometre. Two operators control the system. It has an open design and is compatible with current air and missile defence systems.

The medium-range GBAD IRIS-T SLM system is now equipped with the active multifunctional radar TRML-4D from the German sensor and systems solutions company HENSOLDT.

The emission-free passive radar will give IRIS-T SLM operators greater protection against detection, countermeasures, and anti-radiation missiles.

The missile is thrust Vector-Controlled with an Infrared Imaging System. The missile can endure g-forces of up to 60 Gs due to its exceptional mobility, which is facilitated by thrust vector control. This implies that any target with twice as low g-forces will still be unable to evade an anti-aircraft missile.

And because a manned aircraft cannot move over 9G, the pilot cannot survive. 

Simply put, the infrared aiming technique involves aiming at heat. Do not assume that just the aeroplane engine emits heat; all items heated by air movement transmit heat. The viewing angle is 90 degrees.

The rocket emits nothing, and its presence cannot be detected until it reaches its target.

The “intelligent” homing system IRIS-T can recall pictures and compare them to images in its memory, allowing it to differentiate between heat traps and the actual target.

Neither decoys or an anti-missile manoeuvre is likely to successfully mislead a missile.

Diehl Defence is now working on the IRIS-T SLX system, distinguished by an improvement in performance. It has a greater range (up to 80 kilometres) and altitude coverage (up to 30 kilometres), extending response and warning periods and expanding the protection perimeter.

Kalibr Missiles

Since the outset, Russia has used the advanced and costly Kalibr missiles. The rocket weighs roughly 1,770 kg and includes a warhead of 500 kgs.

These missiles have predetermined trajectories and may follow the terrain to avoid air defences. As it approaches its objective, its height decreases to 20 metres above the ground.

The projectiles of this missile family are fired from ships and boats in the Black and Caspian Seas. In addition, Su-35 fighters may use Kalibr-A missiles, which range 2,600 kilometres on the ground.

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