A successful test on Friday of the technologies that go into a “solid fuel ducted ramjet” (SFDR) has propelled the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) into an exclusive group of manufacturers that can build long-range air-to-air missiles (AAM) capable of shooting down enemy aircraft hundreds of kilometres away.
The DRDO has already impressed the Indian Air Force (IAF) with its home-grown Astra medium-range AAM. The IAF is planning to equip the Tejas Mark 1A fighter with the Astra Mark 1, enabling it to strike airborne targets at ranges of 60-70 km.
The Tejas Mark 2 fighter will field the Astra Mark 2, which DRDO sources say will have a range of 150-160 km, making it the Indian equivalent of the Meteor AAM that equips the Rafale fighter. But the real capability leap will come with the SFDR-based AAM, which top DRDO officials say will have a range of 350 km.
Fighter aircraft grab attention with their aerodynamic performance, but their combat capability depends more on the range of their AAMs. When the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) shot down an Indian MiG-21 fighter the day after the Balakot strike in February 2019, it was because the AMRAAM missiles carried by the PAF’s F-16 fighters outranged the IAF MiG-21s’ missiles. Since then, the IAF has tried to ensure their fighters enjoy a missile advantage.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that the flight demonstration, carried out off the coast of Odisha on Friday, validated key missile subsystems, including the booster motor, nozzle-less motor and the basic SFDR technology.