Wednesday, December 7, 2022

British Fighter Jets Fire Dozens Of ASRAAM Missiles That India Has Also Selected For Its Su-30MKIs

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) carried out a major live-fire exercise that involved the largest mass firing of the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAMs) from RAF Typhoon and F-35B Lightning II fighter jets against target drones.

The live-fire drill reportedly named the ‘Exercise FOX2 Frenzy’, was held in September over the sea in the Hebrides Air Weapon Ranges off the northwest coast of Scotland and saw a total of 53 ASRAAMs fired over ten days.

Overall, the ranges cover some 44,000 square miles of airspace with unlimited altitude.

Pilots from multiple RAF squadrons took part in the exercise, flying an undisclosed number of Eurofighter Typhoons and F-35B fifth-generation fighters.

Typhoon pilots came from the four squadrons of the RAF Lossiemouth, namely the No. 1 (F), No. II (AC), No. 6, and No. IX (B), and from the No. 3 (F) Squadron and No. 41 Test & Evaluation Squadron at RAF Coningsby. While the F-35B were from No. 207 and No. 617 Squadrons based at RAF Marham.

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RAF Typhoons & F-35B conducting air patrols over Eastern Europe, March 2022 (Twitter)

Notably, the RAF Typhoons from the No. 41 Test & Evaluation Squadron had participated in a live-fire exercise with the US military that was held in September off the Scottish coast, which saw a decommissioned US Navy warship sunk by a variety of weapons, marking the first time an RAF Typhoon fired live munitions onto a warship used as a maritime target.

The Typhoons and F-35Bs fired the ASRAAMs at Banshee target drones that can be used to replicate hostile manned aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

Meggitt Banshees.jpg
Banshee unmanned drones (Wikipedia)

“The training has proved the impressive capability of Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles across both RAF combat air platforms, providing training and real-world feedback by destroying Banshee drone targets,” the RAF said in a press release on October 22.

“Watching the missile disappear into the sky in front of me was a moment to remember, it really is impressive how fast the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles can go. The experience has given me a real appreciation of the capability of the missile and how it can be employed in a real combat situation,” an unnamed RAF fighter pilot said about the exercise.

The ASRAAM Missile 

The ASRAAM is a short-range air-to-air missile (AAM) produced by the British division of the pan-European missile systems company – MBDA. The missile weighs approximately 90 kg and is around 2.89 meters long, with a diameter of about 16.5 centimeters.

The missile is equipped with an infrared imaging seeker that can acquire targets autonomously. The missile can also acquire targeting data from sensors onboard the aircraft, including the radar or the helmet-mounted sight.

ASRAAM Missiles Fitted to RAF Typhoon Jet MOD 45155903.jpg
ASRAAM Missiles Fitted to RAF Typhoon Jet (Wikipedia)

ASRAAM can reportedly engage targets at a distance of more than 25 kilometers, as per MBDA’s datasheet. At the same time, some reports also suggest the missile range is as far as 49 kilometers. If true, this would put the missile almost in the medium-range category.

ASRAAM is known for its high speed, as is evident from the Exercise FOX2 Frenzy videos showing the missile racing off the launch rail. The powerful rocket motor of the missile propels it to speed exceeding Mach 3.

However, the advantages of the missile’s high speed are offset by reduced agility at closer ranges compared to other short-range AAMs.

Each ASRAAM missile is said to cost around $225,500.

For several years, ASRAAM was in service with only the British RAF and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), with the latter having now retired the missile, together with its F/A-18A/B Hornets.

However, of late, the missile has been acquired by other countries, such as Oman and Qatar, for their Typhoons.

Moreover, India has also selected the missile to arm its Jaguars and intends to integrate them on its Su-30MKI Flankers to replace the Russian-made R-73 (AA-11 Archer), at least to some extent, if not completely.

ASRAAM has undergone continuous improvements throughout its production life. The latest Block 6 model entered the service on RAF’s Typhoons earlier this year and is planned to be accommodated onto the F-35B in 2024.

The Block 6 missile features several advancements, including a British-designed infrared seeker and a built-in cryogenic cooling system.

Notably, replacing US-made components with new UK-made ones also ensures that the missile is not covered by the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), easing export to more countries.

Indian Air Force Su-30 MKI jets
Indian Air Force Su-30 MKI jets

Lack Of Combat Exposure

The ASRAAM saw action for the first time in December last year when an RAF Typhoon struck a hostile drone over Syria. This was also the first air-to-air engagement for the Typhoon in British service.

This was probably the first time since the late 1940s that an RAF pilot flying an RAF plane shot down an enemy aircraft of any kind in combat.

Due to the limited exposure to combat so far, the RAF needs to repeatedly test the ASRAAM and other air-launched weapons under realistic conditions, including complete end-to-end engagements such as during the Exercise FOX2 Frenzy.

RAF Typhoon of 3 Squadron fires ASRAAM in 2007 (Wikipedia)

For some RAF pilots, this was the first time they had fired an ASRAAM missile.

“It surpassed all expectations of what my first live firing exercise on the Typhoon would be. Selecting the weapon and knowing a live missile would come off the rail was a unique moment; hearing the missile tone and pulling the trigger, followed by a large whoosh sound and a slight wobble of the aircraft, was fantastic,’ said an unnamed Pilot from RAF Lossiemouth.

Also, exercises like this provide invaluable experience to the aircrew and maintainers in handling the live missiles and loading them onto the jets alongside other personnel and assets from around the service.

“Seeing the preparation of the aircraft and missiles was crucial to the more junior members of the Squadron, it gave them the opportunity to understand the challenges of a live weapon firing exercise. Operating armed aircraft requires all those involved to maintain the highest levels of concentration due to the extra risks involved,” said an unnamed Weapons Technicians from the No. IX (B) Squadron.

Apart from that, the exercise also allows the assessment of the reliability and capability of the ASRAAM to actually destroy multiple aerial targets, with the help of the Hebrides Air Weapon Ranges’ fully instrumented 3D test and evaluation equipment that collects real-time information on missile launches.

The ASRAAMs used in the exercise were almost time-expired, as per the tweet by Group Captain Phil Marr, who presides over the UK’s F-35B operations. Every missile round has a shelf life of a certain number of years, after which they are no longer fully reliable.

Interestingly, the news of the live-fire exercise using ASRAAMs comes after a Russian Su-27 fighter jet “released a missile” near a British RC-135 surveillance aircraft in international airspace over the Black Sea on September 29.

Following the incident, these surveillance aircraft are now escorted by Typhoons during operations over the Black Sea, and live ASRAAM missiles are part of the standard RAF Typhoon weapons package for such missions.

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