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SOURCE: ANITA DESAI / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

India has been cleared to acquire Integrated Air Defense Weapon System (IADWS) which is the advanced form of National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS-II) along with it will it India has been cleared to get two main and important weapons system in the package that are 118 AIM-120C-7 and AIM-120C-8 missiles which are latest Beyond Visual range Air-to-Air missile with no external changes then what is used on fighter jets.

LCA-Tejas Mk1A will be getting India’s Astra Mk1 BVRAAM which according to developers of the missile system is comparable to the AIM-120C-5 which is used by Pakistani Air Force F-16 fleet in terms of range and technical specifications.

India has decided not to integrate Russian BVRAAMs like R-77 and R-37 due to performance issues but has tested an older version of the Derby BVRAAM which was originally procured for the Sea Harrier upgrade program which now has been retired from Tejas Mk1 aircraft. Israel has offered India its upgraded I-Derby BVRAAMs which has double the range and according to weapons maker offers 80% of the operational performance of the Meteor air-to-air missiles which are super exclusive to the 36 Dassault Rafale at least till now since MBDA the makers of the weapons system do not want to clear it for integration with India’s Su-30MKI and Tejas Mk1A fleet anytime soon.

So India is left practically with only one option that is I-Derby BVRAAM. DRDO has promised to double the range of future variants of Astra BVRAAMs and according to certain media reports a Dual-Pulse motor with additional booster might be offered as Astra Mk2 with a range of around 140-150km against fighter-sized aircraft and Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR) which DRDO is developing with Russia and is equipped with solid fuelled air-breathing ramjet engine might become Astra Mk3 in near future with a range from 140-300km for fighter and AWACS sized targets.

Technical flexibility

Tejas Mk1A will come equipped with Israeli ELA ELTA-2052 AESA Fire Control Radar which already has been integrated with the ARMAAM variant due to Israeli manufacture which also needs to cater to both Israeli origin BVRAAMs and AMRAAM which are used by the Israeli Air force.

South Korean FA-50 which is Light attack/fighter version equipped with EL/M-2032 multimode planar array fire-control radar which is used in current Tejas MK1 use AIM-120 AMRAAM as its main BVRAAM on its FA-50 Block 20 variant which is still in work and interestingly also offered Israeli ELA ELTA-2052 AESA Fire Control Radar if any prospective customer desired to have an AESA Radar instead of older EL/M-2032 fire-control radar, which at least confirms that technically at least it’s viable.

Americans Clearance

AMRAAM Family has been integrated into Non-American fighter jets like Saab’s Gripen and Gripen-E, Euro-Fighter Typhoon, and light class fighter jet aircraft like FA-50. so It is unlikely Americans will object in the integration of AMRAAMs on the LCA-Tejas Mk1A and Mk2 soon since we are already getting them in another form.

Why AMRAAM?

Astra Mk1 BVRAAM which is comparable to AIM-120C-5 is a commendable achievement for the DRDO and India but the amount of time take to reach also suggests the development of smaller missile systems particularly air to air weapons are not so easy and the future variant of Astra will take no time to come.

Astra Mk1 BVRAAM production is yet to be scaled up and it still has entered only limited scale production and as per media reports initially will be cleared only with the Su-30MKI fleet and later will move to LCA-Tejas Mk1A and Mk2.

Production constraints will ensure that Tejas Mk1A will feature either Israeli I-Derby BVRAAM or the older Derby BVRAAM till the scale of Astra production is scaled up and IAF places orders in larger numbers. Astra Mk2 and Astra Mk3 won’t be available at least for the next 7-10 years which means Tejas Mk1A and Mk2 will have to rely on at least one foreign-made BVRAAM along with Astra MK1.

AIM-120C-7 and AIM-120C-8 are way superior then Astra MK1 in terms of range and technical specifications and is the system which we are already getting in the country.

Conclusion

Until Astra Mk1 are mass-produced and until Mk2 and Mk3 arrive in the picture, Tejas Mk1A will require a foreign BVRAAM it can be I-Derby BVRAAM or AMRAAMs, even when Astra Mk1 is available in large numbers just to maintain a rigid combo of BVRAAMs it will continue to have secondary missile as a back up until off course Astra Mk2 and Mk3 arrives.

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