New Delhi: With the US Government clearing sales of AIM-9M Sidewinder beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles to Pakistan, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is scrambling fast to acquire similar, if not longer range, BVR missiles to maintain an edge over neighbouring air forces in the region.
The US government has cleared the sale of AMRAAM and Sidewinder AIM-9M air-to-air missiles, worth $240 million, to Islamabad, which will arm its new batch of 50 F-16 fighters.
The sudden move by the US Govt. to update the capabilities of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) with the Sidewinders would appear to have put the fat in the fire for the IAF, which, according to reports, may now quickly seek to induct 120-km range BVR air-to-air missiles.
According to air force sources, the 120-km BVR missiles, when inducted, would make the IAF the only force in Asia with such capability. These BVR missiles will have ramjet propulsion.
Uptill now, the IAF had a clear edge in the area of beyond-visual-range combat with its complement of medium range Russian supplied R-27 REI and R-27 RETs missiles, which locked-on to targets at 35 km range for close combat, as well as the longer range Russian R-77 and French R-550 Magic Matra missiles, which locked onto targets 60 km away.
The AIM-9M Sidewinders is now set to nullify the edge considerably.
According to analysts, the IAF's likely acquisition of long-range BVR missiles would occur in tandem with the induction of active phased array radars in its fleet of combat aircraft. The recently cleared $2.6 billion purchase of 40 advanced version Sukhoi-30 MKIs, as well as the 126 medium range combat aircraft, tenders for which are expected to be floated soon, will all be equipped with the new radars.
Even as the air force may decide to opt for quick purchases of BVR missiles to match PAFs induction (which, very likely, could take place from the Pentagon's own stock of missiles, and so be available at short notice) moves are afoot to speed up development of India's own technologies in this area.
The DRDO designed and developed BVR candidate, the Astra (weapon), has been in the offing for some time, and it is likely that foreign collaboration may be sought to speed up development efforts in this area.
The induction of the long range BVRs could likely occur alongside that of the contracted for Phalcon airborne early warning and control aircraft (AWACS), which are due for induction in the Indian Air Force from November this year into 2009.