IRIS-T is likely to be the new Swiss surface-to-air defense

Swiss defense is set to embrace a significant enhancement as Diehl Defense, a leading German weapons systems manufacturer, looks poised to construct Switzerland’s next medium-range surface-to-air defense system, the IRIS-T. Following the withdrawal of competitors MBDA and Kongsberg from the 675 million euro tender, Diehl Defense remains the sole contender. 

Germany boosts its air defenses with an order for 1000+ Iris-Ts
Photo credit: Sundries

“A green light for the remaining candidate in the third quarter of 2024 is contingent, beyond costs, on meeting the stringent requirements laid out by Armasuisse,” stated the Swiss military. 

Initiated in October 2022, Germany’s European Sky Shield Initiative [ESSI] is a strategic effort to standardize air defense procurement across member nations. The initiative aims to deliver comprehensive, multi-layered protection by integrating three key systems: the IRIS-T SLM from Germany’s Diehl Defense, the American Patriot, and Israel’s Arrow 3, developed with support from the United States.

German air defense in Ukraine 'quickly spends' the missiles - IRIS-T
Photo credit: Twitter

Without giving up its neutrality, Switzerland decided to join this project, which was managed under NATO guidelines. Additionally, through its Air 2030 program, Switzerland has already placed an order for Patriot PAC-3 systems with GEM-T interceptors, for $1.2 billion. 

Looking to enhance its defense capabilities, Bern has recently issued a tender valued at 660 million Swiss francs [approximately 675 million euros] for the acquisition of new medium-sized surface-to-air defense systems. 

Interestingly, two out of the three manufacturers invited to submit proposals may have felt that the outcome was predetermined or that the terms of the tender were unfavorable. As of July 5, Armasuisse announced that both MBDA and Kongsberg had informed them of their decision not to participate in the evaluation for the new medium-range surface-to-air defense system.

iris-t missile
Photo credit: Wikipedia

One key requirement set by Switzerland is that the system must already have a proven track record of successful deployment. Additionally, Switzerland emphasizes the importance of integrating the Swiss industry as part of the contract. This means that the full purchase price must be offset by transactions within Switzerland. “There is no flexibility” on this offset requirement, stated Armasuisse spokeswoman Samanta Leiser. 

The IRIS-T SLM system is crafted to defend against aircraft, cruise missiles, and drones, with a range of up to 40 kilometers. According to Diehl, the system’s performance in Ukraine has been “excellent,” boasting a “near 100% hit rate” even during intensive attack waves of over 12 targets. 

The IRIS-T [InfraRed Imaging System – Tail/Thrust Vector-Controlled] is a highly advanced short to medium-range air-to-air missile developed by Germany. It is designed to provide superior performance in terms of agility, accuracy, and lethality. The missile is equipped with an infrared seeker that allows it to engage targets in a ‘fire-and-forget’ mode, meaning it can lock onto a target and guide itself to impact without further input from the launch platform.

US sends Norwegian ground 25km-range SAM, AIMs, IRIS-Ts to Ukraine
Photo credit: Kongsberg

A typical IRIS-T battery includes several types of equipment to ensure comprehensive defense capabilities. This usually consists of multiple launchers, each capable of firing several missiles, a command-and-control unit to manage the operations, and various support vehicles for logistics and maintenance. The system is designed to be highly mobile, allowing for rapid deployment and repositioning as needed. 

The technical characteristics of the IRIS-T missile include a length of approximately 2.94 meters, a diameter of 127 millimeters, and a weight of around 87.4 kilograms. It has a maximum speed of Mach 3 and can engage targets at ranges up to 25 kilometers. The missile is also equipped with a high-explosive fragmentation warhead, which increases its effectiveness against a wide range of aerial threats. 

The IRIS-T system employs several types of radars to detect, track, and engage targets. These include 3D surveillance radars, which provide comprehensive situational awareness by scanning the airspace for potential threats, and fire control radars, which are used to guide the missile to its target. The integration of multiple radar types ensures that the system can operate effectively in various environments and against a diverse array of threats.

IRIS-T SLM anti-aircraft system
Photo credit: Vincorion

The capabilities of the radars used in the IRIS-T system are impressive. The 3D surveillance radars can detect and track multiple targets simultaneously, providing real-time data to the command and control unit. This allows for quick decision-making and efficient target engagement. The fire control radars are highly accurate, ensuring that the missile can be guided precisely to its target, even in challenging conditions such as electronic countermeasures or adverse weather. 

The primary weapon of the IRIS-T system is the IRIS-T missile itself. However, the system can be integrated with other types of weapons to enhance its versatility and effectiveness. For instance, it can work in conjunction with longer-range surface-to-air missiles to provide layered defense, ensuring that threats are engaged at various distances. This multi-layered approach significantly increases the overall defensive capability of the system.

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