The raging debate in India off late has been if PAF’s use of F-16 equipped with AIM-120-C5 AMRAAM beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) was a turning point at why IAF was not capable of engaging its framed Russian supplied R-77 BVRAAMs against the intruding jets and had to rely on its R-73 Close Combat Missile fired from an old Mig-21Bis at a close distance of less than 10km. PAF F-16s fired their AIM-120-C5 missiles at long range, probably at distance in excess of 60km which was easily dodged by India’s Ace Sukhoi-Su-30MKI fighter jet, which never got the firing clearance from the missile system, not due to any glitch but due to facts that Su-30MKI was operating at much lower altitude then the F-16s and all missile don’t work as per their advertised range .

Vympel R-77 has a stated range of 100 km against a head-on target at high altitude but at low altitude, it can fire at head-on targets at 20 km, numbers change again when the target engagement is tail-chase and the range falls drastically and at high altitude, it’s just 25km and drops to 5km when the aircraft is flying at low altitude.

AIM-120-C5 AMRAAM is no wonder weapon and probably they all missed their targets when they were fired by PAF F-16 from 40k ft at Su-30MKI at 15 k ft just because it was poorly utilized by the Pakistani pilots who were neither poorly trained at BVR engagements or were in a hurry to make a Kill counting in their luck factor.

Most of the recorded AMRAAM kill in its History has happened in less than 30km range and closest kill recorded was 6km, According to Hellenic (Greek) Air Force reports, F-16s in multiple NATO Aerial exercise had a higher pK (probability of Kill) when the target is within a 20km range and the enemy fighters at 26 k ft. In most of the Western pilot’s account of confirmed kills, while using AMRAAM missiles, pilot preferred getting closer than shoot from further range to improve missiles pK.

No Escape Zone (NEZ) of missiles like AMRAAMs have been between 15km to 25km depending on the altitudes at which the enemy fighters are flying. In the 4th Generation versus 4th Generation aircraft scenario both the Pilots are well aware of the presence of each other and without surprise elements like seen with 5th Generation fighter jets, pK of any BVRAAMs fired from long range will always be lower and according to the United States Air force simulation reports, Su-27/30 variants have high first shot survivability rate due to impressive maneuverability capabilities this jet posses.

If the target is positioned outside AMRAAMs No Escape Zone (NEZ) then several factors including altitude, relative target speed, course, etc.needs to be factor in if the launch was beyond its ‘effective’ range if so then it will decrease the pK while a launch made within the envelope will give much better performance. Now, for example, Initial pK of AMRAAM variant right from the 1990s (AMRAAMs have 5 variants) had a pK of 59% based on 17 shots (10 kills) but most of the targets were engaged in No Escape Zone (NEZ), due to advancement in newer variant overhaul operational pK of AMRAAMs have reached about 80%, only due to Pilots who now have better understanding of the weapons system and are trained to engage them effectively .

In Cope India 04 exercise, USAF had warned that MiG-21 and the Su-30MKI Flanker can be deadly combo in a coordinated air-to-air combat, USAF had said that upgraded Mig-21Bis due to its Low radar visibility, instantaneous turn rate, acceleration, and the helmet mounted sight combined with high-off-boresight R-73 air-to-air missiles were among the factors that made the upgraded MiG-21 a deadly adversary for the U.S. F-15s in the mock drills and this warning seems to have not reached the Pakistani F-16 pilot who rather focused on prize catch of Su-30MKI that they completely forgot about the pair of Mig-21bis which had sneaked in at close range.

PAF F-16s got BVRAAM capabilities quite late and lack of constant international exposure means that they are still not trained well in exploring best envelope for the launch of the missile system and Americans might have been shaking their heads in disbelief that they even fired those missiles at that range in excess of 60kms at a target which was flying at lower altitudes . AIM-120-C5 AMRAAM has an advertised range of 100km but that’s when used at high altitude against a target which is also at the higher altitudes due to which it suffers from the same level of handicaps which was seen with R-77 that day, but C5 due to the advancement was a better missile by 10-15km that day against R-77 and if Russians had developed any later more advanced variant of R-77 it could have come handy.

According to own admission of PAF, they only fired Two AMRAAMS that day and let’s assume that only two were fired, even though IAF believes close to 4-5 were fired that day. one was recovered on India side of the border damaged and was displayed to the International community in a live press conference and the second AMRAAM was fired at Mig-21Bis close combat range of less than 6-8km which is the actual No Escape Zone (NEZ) of missiles like AMRAAMs and scored a kill.

So it clearly confirms that when AMRAAM fired in its No Escape Zone (NEZ) means pK of the missile is close to 100% and missile simply won’t miss but same can be attributed to R-73 which is a Medium range missile but under it’s No Escape Zone (NEZ) missile achieved a direct kill against a superior F-16 fighter jet also because it simply couldn’t shake off the missile . While Indian media would like to believe that Air-to-Air missile can achieve kill at 100km just because the manufacturer advertised on their brochure but such kills are yet to be recorded but it might happen soon due to the deployment of 5th generation fighter like F-35 in large number in various conflict zones but it will the combination of pilot training and Stealth factor which introduces the surprise element in the aerial engagement, which can’t be achieved 4.5th generation warfare in the air.

Su-30MKI didn’t fire single R-77 BVRAAMs due to non-firing clearance from the weapons system but they were smart enough not to override the weapons system in the manual mode and try scoring a kill at long range. Pilots clearly knew that by doing this pK of weapons systems could have been lower than the 20% and to have higher pk, aircraft need to be closer to the target which simply didn’t happen that day due to F-16s sitting right at the fence called loc the whole time and never entered Indian air space beyond 10km that day . If Two Mig-29UPG which were dispatched from Adampur Air Force Station had arrived on the time that day, flying at high altitude equipped with the same R-77 BVRAAMs it could have knocked down more F-16s that day for sure.

F-16 pilots fired a barrage of AMRAAMs at Su-30MKI outside its No Escape Zone (NEZ) and also its effective range only to draw out the Su-30MKI to come closer, a bait which was a well-set ambush which was planned just for propaganda since Su-30MKI is considered as the Ace plane of IAF. Su-30MKI Pilots didn’t fall for their challenge to fight without certain backup flying from Adampur and hats of two Mirage-2000 pilots managed to keep 8 JF-17s at the bay.

Yes Induction of Dassault Rafale which will be equipped with Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile which has a No Escape Zone (NEZ) of over 60 km, it will be a Game Changer and if we had Dassault Rafale that day armed with Meteor, PAF could have lost all 3 F-16s which had breached the airspace that day. Before we criticize our own pilots and praise a weapon system which could only score at short range against a vintage aircraft like Mig-21, we should first understand how weapon systems actually work which no guess will be a tall task to ask from Indian journalists.

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