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The Indian Air Force (IAF) is actively exploring the development and procurement of low-cost air-to-air missile systems. This initiative is driven by the growing prevalence of inexpensive aerial threats like drones, loitering munitions, subsonic cruise missiles, and rockets.

The IAF recognizes the strategic shift in warfare tactics. Employing expensive surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) against these low-cost threats is not only financially unsustainable but also depletes crucial defence assets during conflicts. Modern adversaries often resort to overwhelming air attacks using drones and loitering munitions, aiming to exhaust air defence systems and missile stockpiles before deploying higher-end weaponry.

The IAF currently has the VL-SRSAM (Vertical Launch Short Range Surface to Air Missile) under development for quick reaction against aerial threats. Additionally, the VSHORADS (Very Short Range Air Defence System) offers some mobile defence capability. However, these options are considered too expensive and time-consuming to produce in large quantities. DRDO plans to develop an air-to-air variant of the VSHORADS to be used by Attack helicopters like LCH and Apache.

The IAF envisions a low-cost interceptor missile system that should be deployable from diverse platforms, including trucks, helicopters, and even fighter jets, offering maximum operational adaptability. The IAF is looking to private Indian companies to develop a new generation of low-cost interceptor missiles. These missiles, ideally air-launched with a range exceeding 20-25 kilometres, would be more cost-effective against low-cost threats.

The envisioned system should offer launching flexibility, allowing deployment from trucks, helicopters, and even fighter jets. This versatility would provide a multi-layered defence against various aerial threats.

Solar Industries India Limited (SOLARINDS) has already unveiled the Bhargavastra Weapons System, designed to combat UAVs and loitering munitions. While the IAF has shown interest, It is not clear if they will seek an air-launched solution with a longer range.

The IAF plans to engage with all interested stakeholders and companies before formally announcing a development program. This collaborative approach aims to establish clear technical requirements and identify the most suitable partners for bringing this project to fruition.

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