The Indian Air Force (IAF) has begun the process to procure and induct the indigenously developed Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Astra missile into its fleet. Along with induction of the Astra, it is also currently integrating the Israeli I-Derby Extended Range missile on its Su 30 MKI. Speaking to the media, IAF representatives explained that, along with the medium-range BVR MICA, and the long-range Meteor missile, India’s air strike capabilities would be significantly enhanced with the Astra’s induction.
The move comes over a year after the Balakot strike that saw Indian aircraft cross the Line of Control, enter into Pakistani airspace, and conduct a series of strikes in retaliation to a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bombing in the Pulwama district of Kashmir. What followed was a dogfight between Pakistani F16s, equipped with the American-made BVR missile, AMRAAM, and India’s Su 30 MKI and Mirage aircraft. It was noted at the time that Pakistan’s AMRAAM missile had higher capabilities than the R-77 and MICA, used by India’s fleet.
Pakistan’s AIM-120 C-5 AMRAAM missile, reportedly, has a maximum range of approximately 105 km. The MICA has a maximum range of just 50km, and the R-77, supposedly Russia’s answer to the American missile, has a range of 80km.
Reclaiming the skies ::
In a frank disucssion, following the Balakot strike, IAF chief RKS Bhadauria stated that India’s air strike capabilities were superior to Pakistan’s during the Kargil War, but India had since let that advantage slip. He stressed the need to improve the IAF’s weapons capabilities stating, “In air engagement, especially in a deeply contested area, it is important to have a weapon’s edge. Once we retain this edge, it is important that we don’t allow to slip back this edge.”
The IAF chief was alluding to the procurement of the European-made Meteor missile that, reportedly, has a range of 150km. These missiles, when integrated with the newly purchased Rafale jets, the first batch of which are expected to arrive in May, would allow India to recapture the advantage in the skies.
However, the foreign Meteor missiles are expensive, and as such, there has been a growing need to develop an indigenous missile on par with those of Pakistan’s. As such, the Astra, with a reported range of 100km, will prove to be a fine addition to the spine of the IAF’s fleet. Future versions of the missile currently being developed, are also likely to have a comparable range to the Meteor, according to some reports.