PART I – Beyond Visual Range
At present, war clouds are hovering over these South Asian rivals due to some issues. With the growing tensions, Armed Forces on both sides are on high alert. This time, it is a different situation because the aggression is at the peak. With heavy artillery rounds pounding both sides of the fence, the conditions are deteriorating very moment. Air Force, carrying out intensive CAPs, armed with AAMs to counter any aerial threats.
The current generation of aerial combat is mostly depending on precision hits with AAMs. The theory of “one who sees first will shoot first” is quite true. But, the winner can’t be predicted with this theory because many factors affect such a scenario like Maneuverability, Altitude, Radar cross-section, EW strength, etc. of the bandit.
Before we start we assure you that this information is unbiased and not promoting war/conflict in anyway and just for knowledge purpose.
Let’s start with the comparison with the BVR missiles that are currently in stock and joining soon with the Indian and Pakistani Air force.
Just a quick look at BVR missiles if some are wondering about that. A Beyond-Visual-Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) can be defined as a guided missile capable of tracking and engaging aerial threats at ranges of 37 km or greater.
1 . AIM-120 (Pakistan) vs RVV-AE (India)
- AIM-120 aka Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile, AMRAAM is the primary BVRAAM equipped on PAF F-16s while RVV-AE (or R77) is the primary BVRAAM equipped on IAF Su-30MKIs and MiG-29UPG. Both missiles follow active radar homing guidance to track the target. AIM-120C5 used by PAF can hit targets under the range of 105-110 kms while R77 has an operational range only upto 80-100 kms. AIM-120 owns the edge over RVV-AE in the case of range. AIM -120 is also regarded as much more successful than R77. One of the main reason is its combat record. A surprising fact is that the AIM-120 made its first aerial kill two years before the introduction of R77. AIM-120 brought down its first target when USAF F-16 shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 during Operation Southern Watch in 1992. Also in a recent event, AMRAAMs was used to bring down the Indian MiG-21 Bison on 27th Feb. This proves AMRAAM’s effectiveness against aerial targets. There is also reports from 27th Feb’s event that Indian Su-30MKIs dodged multiple AMRAAMs fired by one of the PAF’s F-16 but not sure how true is that. If that’s true it must be either F-16 pilot’s poor operating skill or Su-30MKI’s high maneuverability.
- Talking about R77, it is still searching for kills. Actually R77 till now never seen many intense combat situations. Russian Air Force Su-30SM fighters when deployed in Syria were spotted with R77 missiles but none engaged in a dogfight. There is a report that Indian Air Force issued various complaints regarding R77’s poor shelf life. Also, it’s ineffective range and failure to explode during target practice sessions. In 27th Feb skirmish, officials observed that R77 didn’t manage to gain a lock on the PAF F-16 that was also having a altitude advantage.
Here, AIM-120 can be declared slightly better than RVV-AE.
2 . PL-12 (Pakistan) vs Mica EM (India)
- PL-12 aka SD-10 is a Chinese development but carries similar technology of R77 with little indigenous modifications that can be noticed in the shape and propulsion system. it is primarily used by the fleet of JF-17 Block II aircraft. Very few information is available on the internet but few sources say that this missile can only engage the targets under the range of 70-75 km and has a speed of Mach 3.5-4. Enough for BVR engagements against potential targets.
- MICA RF is a BVRAAM used by Mirage-2000 fleet of Indian Air Force. It’s an Active Radar Guidance variant of the MICA missile family. MICA is one of the renowned State-of-the-art weapons of Europe. It is widely adopted by various other Air Forces around the world. Maritime Rafales are often spotted with MICA missiles’ agility. In the case of range, it has an advantage over PL-12. It can engage targets under the range of 80-85 kms with a speed of Mach 4.
That’s it, the above two (PL-12 and AIM-120) are the only available BVRAAMs in the PAF inventory so a further continuation of comparison is not possible. After PL-12 and AIM-120, Pakistan only replies on Short Range missiles for aerial engagements. While India is operating more BVRAAMs like R-27 (primary AAM of MiG-29) and Derby (selected for Tejas LCA). Also, the first batch of indigenously developed Astra missiles will be delivered by the end of the year.
Now let’s see about missiles joining in the future.
1 . Pakistani Air Force
- PL-15 (for JF-17 Block III) BVR missile capable to hit the targets under an effective range up to 160-170 kms, few sources report that the actual range maybe something around 200 kms or more, thanks to double-pulse solid rocket motor in the propulsion system, with a max speed of Mach 5 and anti-interference data link system, the missile is very much trustworthy for the operators.
- Few reports claim that PL-15 is also armed on Block II variant, however, it is yet to be confirmed from official sources.
Please let us know if there is more to consider in the comment section.
2 . Indian Air Force
- Meteor (for Rafale), in the same league of PL-15, it is a European BVR missile developed to engage targets at a long range. Actual range of the missile is not yet revealed but has a confirmed No Escape Zone (NEZ) under 100 km leaving no chance for the target to evade. It air-breathing ramjet propulsion system which also provides a max speed up to Mach 4.5-5. A two way data-link and an Active Radar Target Seeker ensures that Meteor reaches its target, even at very long ranges. Two-way data-link enables the missile to be guided by an AWACS or by other aircraft sharing the link in case if the aircraft launching the missile is not in suitable firing range. A jam resistant proximity fuze allows effective precision and course of the weapon.
- R-37M, also known as “AWACS killers” (for Su-30MKI) is a very long range BVR missile specially designed to hit the high value aerial targets like AWACS, ELINT or Military Cargo Aircrafts under the range of 390 kms. Such missiles are usally preferred in these situations because High Value (HV) aerial assets are usually escorted by friendly aircraft. So it will be hard to engage them in easy way as most of the BVR missiles are available under 150 kms range so a hostile can be tracked by escorting aircrafts friendly aircrafts well before it reaches a suitable firing range to engage a HV target.
- Astra (ordered for Su-30MKI) is an indigenously developed BVRAAM. It features mid-course inertial guidance with terminal active radar homing. It can hit targets under the range of 75-80 kms and can reach the speed upto Mach 4.5. Astra is also equipped with electronic countermeasures to allow effective operation even during enemy attempts to jam the systems through electronic warfare.
- RVV-SD (under testing, for Su-30MKI) is an improved variant of RVV-AE (R-77) with an enhanced range of 110 kms.
The the part-I ends here with the detailed comparison of BVRAAM arsenal available for both the countries.
Stay tuned for part II which will cover other payloads.
Thanks to Military Marvels for the post, please do check them in the link provided.