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.