SOURCE: RAUNAK KUNDE / NEWS BEAT / IDRW.ORG
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is poised to make a strategic decision to further expand its procurement of the Meteor missile, a European active radar-guided beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM). This expansion comes in response to the delay in the development and production of the Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR), also known as Astra Mk3, by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
Astra Mk3, which was expected to enhance India’s air-to-air missile capabilities, is still five to six years away from entering production and is yet to undergo airborne developmental trials. The integration of the Meteor missile onto Indian platforms had initially faced challenges, but with the development of indigenous radar systems, these hurdles are being overcome, enabling the IAF to equip a broader range of aircraft with this formidable BVRAAM.
MBDA, the manufacturer of the Meteor missile, had initially refused to allow its integration with Russian and Israeli Fire Control Radars (FCR). This restriction limited the missile’s deployment to specific aircraft in the Indian fleet. Notably, it hindered its integration with the Su-30MKI and Tejas Mk1 fleets. The Meteor missile is renowned for its substantial “No Escape Zone” (NEZ) against fighter-sized targets, offering a significant advantage in air-to-air engagements.
To overcome the integration challenges, the IAF is embarking on two key initiatives. First, the Russian radar systems on the Su-30MKI fleet are being replaced with the domestically developed Virupaksha Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar as part of the “Super-30” Upgrade Proposal by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). This upgrade paves the way for the integration of the Meteor missile with the Su-30MKI, a critical advancement in the aircraft’s air-to-air capabilities.
Second, the Tejas Mk1A fleet is set to receive the Uttam AESA radar, developed by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE). This radar system eliminates the previous objections raised by MBDA, enabling seamless integration of the Meteor missile onto the Tejas Mk1A.
The IAF has already procured around 250 Meteor BVRAAMs for its 36 Dassault Rafale fleet, granting it a substantial advantage in the region. However, limiting the deployment of this missile solely to the Rafale fleet is considered a handicap when enforcing aerial superiority, particularly due to the limited number of Rafale aircraft in the IAF’s inventory.
To address this limitation, the IAF has initiated the equipping of Su-30MKI squadrons with the locally developed Astra MkI BVRAAMs, and soon, some LCA-Tejas squadrons will follow suit. Furthermore, the Astra MkII, featuring an improved range of over 160 kilometers, is slated to undergo testing later this year in full configuration against aerial targets. This advanced missile is expected to enter production in less than two years, further enhancing India’s air-to-air missile capabilities.
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