New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) has initiated the process to acquire and induct the first batch of the indigenous all-weather Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile – Astra – as it aims to recapture its edge over its Pakistani counterpart in air-to-air capability.
To add to its options, the IAF is also in the process of integrating the Israeli I-Derby Extended Range missile on its frontline fighter aircraft, the Su 30 MKI.
These missiles along with the already inducted MICA medium range BVR, and the long-range Meteor missiles will form the backbone of India’s air-to-air strike capability.
“We have initiated the process to acquire the first batch of the Astra missiles. Since it is indigenous, we will be procuring them in batches,” an IAF officer told ThePrint.
During the aerial duel between India and Pakistan on 27 February last year, the IAF had felt the chinks in its air-to-air armour with the Pakistanis having had the edge in this sphere.
Pakistan’s F16s were armed with the AIM-120 C-5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile), which has a higher capability than that of the medium range R-77 used by the Su 30 MKI and the MICA used by the Mirages.
A lost edge
The IAF had the edge over its Pakistani counterpart during the Kargil battle in 1999 but lost it in 2010 when the American AMRAAM was deployed by the latter.
IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhaduria, had on 28 February this year said that the force is looking at regaining the upper hand in air-to-air missile capabilities that was “allowed to slip” amid a “struggle” to acquire missiles in a process that has lasted 15 years.
The IAF chief was referring to the European-manufactured Meteor missiles that have a range of about 150 km. With the missile, an IAF pilot will be able to take out enemy aircraft at a distance of 150 km without even crossing the Indian airspace.
The Meteors have been ordered along with the Rafale fighters. While the first four Rafale fighters will land in India by May, it will take another year or so for them to be fully operationalised.
Only Rafales to have Meteor missiles
While the initial plan was to try and integrate the Meteor missiles on the Mirage 2000, the Su 30 MKI and the Tejas Mark II, the European manufacturer of the missile – MBDA – told the IAF that the French-made Mirage 2000 and the Russian Su 30 MKI are not suitable for the long range missile.
For the Tejas, MBDA said that the missile can be integrated only when the aircraft is equipped with indigenous AESA radar rather than the Israeli one that will be initially used.
Following this, the IAF has decided to restrict the Meteor missile to the Rafale and rely on better versions of Astra and I-Derby for its main firepower.
While the Astra currently has a range of about 100 km, the Israeli I-Derby has about a 60 km range.
“It is also a matter of cost,” a defence source said. “The Meteor is a very expensive missile. Astra, a fine missile, is cheaper by over half the price since it is indigenous. It is expected that future versions of Astra will beat the range of the Meteor itself.”
Another missile which will be part of the IAF firepower is the British Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM). While it is already being integrated with the Anglo-French Jaguar aircraft, the plan is to integrate them on the Su 30 MKI. If successful, this missile will replace the short range R-73 air-to-air missile that is on board the Russian aircraft currently.