The AIM-9 Sidewinder is an infrared homing, short-range, air-to-air missile carried mostly by fighter aircraft and recently, certain gunship helicopters. The missile entered service with the United States Navy in the mid-1950s, and variants and upgrades remain in active service with many air forces after five decades. The United States Air Force purchased the Sidewinder after the missile was developed by the United States Navy at China Lake, California.
The Sidewinder is the most widely used missile in the West, with more than 110,000 missiles produced for the U.S. and 27 other nations, of which perhaps one percent have been used in combat. It has been built under license by some other nations including Sweden. The AIM-9 is one of the oldest, least expensive, and most successful air-to-air missiles, with an estimated 270 aircraft kills in its history of use.
The missile was designed to be simple to upgrade. It has been said that the design goals for the original Sidewinder were to produce a reliable and effective missile with the "electronic complexity of a table model radio and the mechanical complexity of a washing machine"—goals which were well accomplished in the early missiles. The United States Navy hosted a 50th anniversary celebration of its existence in 2002. Boeing won a contract in March 2010 to support Sidewinder operations through 2055, guaranteeing that the weapons system will remain in operation until at least that date. Air Force Spokeswoman Stephanie Powell noted that due to its relative low cost, versatility, and reliability it is "very possible that the Sidewinder will remain in Air Force inventories through the late 21st century."