The Indian Air Force’s most advanced fighter jet – SU-30MKI may be re-armed with Israeli Derby air-to-air missiles according to reports in India Media. The reason for rearming SU-30MKI with Derby missiles instead of the traditional Russian R-77 missiles is because the SU-30MKI was found lagging behind in air combat against the F-16’s during the recent skirmishes with Pakistan.
Sources in the Indian Air Force told Indian Media – NDTV, “We already have the missile as part of the SPYDER (Surface-to-Air Missile) system. Integration (with IAF’s SU-30MKI) is the next step.”
Retaliating to the IAF strikes in Balakot on terror hideouts, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aggressively positioned a large formation of 24 fighters near the Line of Control (LoC). Few jets of the PAF crossed the LoC and fired precision-guided glide bombs to counter the Indian strikes.
The IAF scrambles eight fighter planes, including two SU-30MKI jets to intercept the Pakistani formation when they detected the launch of several US-made AIM-120 C5 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) in their direction.
”The PAF surprised the IAF by launching air-to-air missiles from inside their territory,” says defence experts. ”The AMRAAM completely outranged the SU-30MKI air-to-air missile.
Among the Indian Air Force’s fighters which were targeted were two SU-30MKI’s which managed to dodge the AMRAAMs which were fired at close to their maximum range of 100 kilometres.
Fully defensive and desperate to escape the incoming AMRAAMs, the IAF SU-30MKI’s avoided being shot down but were helpless to retaliate against the F-16s because they were out of position and their own missiles, the Russian R-77s, did not have the range to counter the Pakistani fighters. The range of Russian missiles is believed to be approximately 80 kilometres.
To meet its requirements, the IAF is looking at the I-Derby variant of the Israeli missile. Blending the missile into the Russian fighter will be a massive task and may require Israeli expertise, particularly in developing a data-link between the SU-30MKI and the missile, once it is fired
The Indian Navy was the first to integrate an older variant of the Derby missile with its now-retired fleet of Sea Harrier fighters. The missile is also the primary air-to-air weapon of the indigenous Tejas fighter which has entered service with the Indian Air Force. The Derby is also a component of the IAF’s SPYDER surface-to-air missile batteries, and are considered several generations ahead of the legacy Russian systems which it has replaced.
However, the I-Derby missile, now being looked at, is considerably more advanced that the missiles presently in service. An article in Aviation Week says, ”The new (missile) seeker is lighter and more compact than its predecessor, thus clearing valuable space which has been used by the missile designers to increase the propulsion system. This new addition increases the range of the I-Derby ER beyond 100 km., significantly more than its current “short/medium” range capability.”
The I-Derby isn’t the only missile the air force is looking at to modernise its Sukhoi-30 fleet. The European MBDA manufactured Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM), the first of which were acquired for the air force’s Jaguar fleet in 2014 as part of a 250 million pound deal, has been tested in wind tunnels on models of the Su-30 by the National Aerospace Laboratories in Bengaluru.
Once fully integrated, it will replace the R-73 short-range air-to-air missile presently in use on the Sukhoi-30 fleet.
Simultaneously, the IAF is evaluating the indigenous Astra air-to-air missile for the Sukhoi-30. IAF sources told NDTV, ”The Astra is in development. We have ordered fifty (missiles) of the limited series production.” Ultimately, though, the air force wants an extended-range variant of the missile. ”It will take ten years to get the Astra Mk2 in our inventory,” say sources, a reason why the integration of the I-Derby is being seen as a priority.