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In the wake of the 2019 engagement with the PAF, India’s Beyond-Visual-Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) capability presents a cause for concern. While the IAF’s Rafale jets boast the Meteor missile with an impressive 200km range, their limited numbers (36) restrict their overall impact.

Pakistan, on the other hand, seems to be upping the ante with the Chinese PL-15E BVRAAM. While the PL-15E boasts a technical range advantage (145km) over the Astra MkI (110km) equipped on Su-30MKI fighters, questions remain about its Electronic Counter-Measures (ECM) and overall effectiveness.

However, the limited order of only 250 Astra MkI missiles is insufficient for the IAF’s sizable fleet of over 260 Su-30MKI fighters, with plans for additional LCA-Tejas Mk1A squadrons. A more substantial order, perhaps in the range of 500-1000 units, would be more prudent.

The situation is further complicated by the IAF’s Mirage-2000 and MiG-29UPG fleets. These aircraft are currently armed with older MICA and R-77 missiles, which are outranged by both the AIM-120C and PL-15E. There seems to be a lack of urgency in addressing this critical gap.

The planned integration of Astra MkI with the MiG-29K fleet by next year offers a glimmer of hope, but this might not translate to an automatic upgrade for the MiG-29UPG fleet due to limited Astra MkI stocks.

The longer-range Astra MkII, with a potential range exceeding the PL-15E’s 160km, is still under development and faces a time lag before deployment.

This scenario paints a worrying picture. Pakistan’s large-scale induction of PL-15E missiles on its JF-17 and J-10CE fleets puts the PAF in a position to potentially out-range the IAF’s current capabilities. The situation might worsen with the rumored export variant of the PL-17, boasting an extended range of over 250km.

The IAF must act swiftly. Expediting the procurement of Astra MkI missiles in larger quantities and prioritizing the development and deployment of the Astra MkII and Astra MkIII are crucial steps. Only through a well-equipped and future-proof arsenal can the IAF maintain air superiority in the region.

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Article by SATYAJEET KUMAR ,  cannot be republished Partially or Full without consent from Writer or