The United States military has fired AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles to down the alleged Chinese spy balloon and other mysterious flying objects spotted over Alaska, Michigan and Canada in recent days, but the first missile shot at an object over Lake Huron on Sunday missed its target and landed “harmlessly” in the water, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
It was a somewhat expensive miss. Those Sidewinder missiles, produced by Raytheon Technologies, cost some $439,000 each, according to Bloomberg News. That figure is based on the Defense Department’s desire to procure 255 missiles for about $112 million in fiscal year 2023. “The US does not disclose the exact number of such missiles in its arsenal, but it’s likely to be significant with the US Air Force receiving its 10,000th such missile in 2021,” Bloomberg reports.
Defense experts have said the Sidewinder was the most effective choice for these missions. “While the Sidewinder wasn’t designed for shooting down flying objects like balloons, they are cheaper and less likely to destroy payloads on the flying object that officials want to recover, unlike a radar-guided weapon like the AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range missile,” Bloomberg’s Low De Wei and Gregory Korte write, citing retired US Air Force Colonel Michael Pietrucha.
On the other hand, Time’s Sanya Mansoor notes that the United States still needs to get a better sense of the threat involved from these flying objects and that “it’s unlikely that using Sidewinder air-to-air missiles at about $400,000 a pop fired from $150 million F-22 stealth fighters will be an economical response in the long term.”
Ian Williams, deputy director of CSIS’s Missile Defense Project, tells Time: “If this is something we’re gonna start doing on the regular, we may want to look for more cost effective ways.”