PART II – Within Visual Range
Do many defense enthusiasts wonder why we need WVR missiles in this era of BVRAAM? But the fact is that we are still not in that era. Air Forces around the world are dependent on both WVRAAMs and BVRAAMs for aerial engagements. One of the key features of WVRAAMs is infrared/heat-seeking guidance system enabling the weapon to hit the target by sensing the heat releasing from the enemy aircraft that serves as an advantage in short-range combat.
Early infra-red guided missiles had poor sensitivity, that could only track the hot exhaust pipes of the enemy aircraft releasing the heat from the engines. An attacking aircraft had to maneuver to a position behind the enemy before it could lock and fire an infra-red guided missile. With the improvement in technology, modern infra-red guided missiles can detect the heat of an aircraft’s skin, warmed by the friction of airflow, in addition to the fainter heat signature of the engine when the enemy is being tracked from the side or head-on. However, to counter the situation, flares are added on the aircraft and can be dropped to fool the approaching heat-seeking missile.
But nowadays, the latest technology provided us missiles featuring imaging infrared guidance system that can interpret the different parts of target aircraft and hit the most appropriate section. Imaging Infrared guided missiles are also very hard to fool with hot flares and are much more precise than standard heat-seeker missiles.
One more feature of WVRAAM is its speed in the situation. As they are fired from a short-range and have a supersonic speed, the target receives a very little time to act to evade the approaching missile. Only skilled pilots can figure out the best way to dodge such a threat in such little time.
During Combat Air Patrol and Interception tasks, fighter jets also carry WVRAAMs along with BVRAAMs and use according to the situation. Even during strike missions, WVRAAMs are usually carried by aircraft as a self-defense measure. Hence, within Visual Range Air-to-air missiles are still regarded as an effective asset for Air Forces around the world.
Now let’s compare the WVRAAM arsenal of India and Pakistan.
AIM-9M (Pakistan) vs MICA IR (India)
- AIM 9M-8/9 (Sidewinder), the predecessor of AIM-9X, is also an infrared missile. It is the most widely deployed air-to-air missile on US-made fighter jets. It is the primary WVRAAM deployed on the Pakistan Air Force F-16 fleet. It has a solid-fuel rocket engine that provides speed up to Mach 2.5-3. The detonation mechanism of proximity fuze allows it to detonate automatically when the distance to the target becomes smaller than a predetermined value. It has a glorifying history with PAF. With AIM-9, the PAF made several kills during its involvement in the Soviet-Afghan War. The Soviet Su-22s, MiG-23s, and Su-25s were the victims of AIM-9 Sidewinders.
- MICA IR is primarily deployed on IAF Mirage 2000. The Solid-Propellent rocket motor provides a max speed of Mach 4. MICA IR works on Imaging Infrared guidance system giving it an effective precision. As I already stated at the beginning of the article that it is hard to fool Imaging Infrared missiles with hot flares, therefore, MICA IR is more accurate and trustworthy than AIM-9M in any close-range dogfights. A thrust vector control unit fitted to the rocket motor further increases the missile’s agility. The missile is capable of Lock-On After Launch (LOAL) which means it is capable of engaging targets even when outside its seeker’s at-launch acquisition range.
So, clearly MICA IR have a upper hand.
(FYI, during exercise ATLC 2009, Rafale locked on a F-22 with its MICA IR. It was a simulated close range dogfight and it displayed true potential of MICA even against a 5th generation fighter)
PL-9C (Pakistan) vs R-73E (India)
- PL-9C is a primary ornament if JF-17. With a solid-fuel rocket propulsion system and 11.5 kg warhead, the rocket can only achieve a speed of Mach 2. It has omnidirectional attack capability and good maneuverability. It has a multi-element infrared guidance system that works under the range of 22 kms. Flight control is by long-span pointed delta fins at the front of the missile with Sidewinder-type slipstream driven rollers on the aft tail fin surfaces to prevent roll and so enhance the operation of the guidance system.
- R-73 is primarily deployed on most of the fighters of the Indian Air Force that includes Su-30MKI, MiG-29, Tejas and Mirage 2000 (as secondary). It has an all-aspect Infrared passive homing seeker with high agility which is the result of a unique combined gas/aerodynamic control system with a thrust vector. Powered by a solid-fuel rocket engine, the missile can hit targets while flying at speeds up to Mach 2.5 and has an excellent range of up to 30 kilometers. R-73E also features high off-boresight view cued with the helmet, allowing targets to be engaged far off the aircraft’s center-line. Unlike R77, it has a respected combat record with successful kills in various aerial engagements especially in the Eritrean-Ethiopian War where both countries used R37s missiles against each other. Indian Air Force claims that on 27th Feb, MiG 21 Bison while chasing a PAF F-16, fired an R-73 and successfully shot the aircraft marking an extraordinary kill by the missile.
- As both missiles are equally competitive, what makes R-73 better that PL-9 is it’s a high off-boresight feature that enables the much easier operation and usage during dogfights.
PL-5E (Pakistan) vs R550 Magic II (India)
- PL-5E is primarily used by Pakistan Air Force F-7 fleet and also by JF-17. It is Said to be a reverse engineered AIM-9 featuring AA-10 technology. It carries a 6kg warhead with laser proximity fuse detonation system. It has a speed upto Mach 2.5 and can engage targets under the range of 18 kms. PL-5E features a double delta canards, a 40 degree off boresight capability, and 40G manoeuvre capability.
- Matra Magic II is the latest version of Magic missile family. It has an all-aspect engagement capability and it takes far less time to prepare the missiles for launch. The missiles are deployed on various IAF figters like Mirage 2000 as a secondary WVRAAM, Jaguar, and MiG-27 as a primary WVRAAM but only for self-defense. The missiles has a range of 10 km and a maximum speed of Mach 2+ achieved by a solid motor propulsion system. The double canard configuration allows the moving fins to maintain control at higher angles of incidence. The missile has sensitive IR seeker with head-on capability, an enhanced IR counter-countermeasures including flare rejection, a proximity fuze, with 13 kg HE-FRAG warhead. The missile can be slaved to the aircraft radar or a helmet-mounted sight and designated a target, or it can be used in the autonomous mode to scan in either the vertical or horizontal planes and lock onto a target without help from the aircraft radar.
- Both missiles are soon going to be replaced by respective countries in coming future. Pakistan is reportedly planning to replace the PL-5E stock with A-Darter. India already started integrating AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM), an European WVRAAM, on Jaguar.
It is said that Pakistan is also using R550 missile and presently, Mirage V ROSE fleet is armed with these WVRAAMs.
For future acquisitions,
Pakistan Air Force
1. A-Darter (expected, for JF-17 Block III)
A South African missile that is virtually smokeless because of a boost-sustain rocket motor without any aluminum components. It has Lock-On After Launch (LOAL) capability. It’s wingless airframe and low drag enable the A-Darter to have a higher range than the traditional WVRAAMs. The missile system is designed with a highly agile airframe for close combat in electronic countermeasures (ECM) environments and also uses thrust vector flight control provides a significant boost to maneuverability. It is guided by two-color thermal imaging infrared homing with laser fuse. It features a multi-mode electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) suite for higher view angles.
2. MAA-1 (unconfirmed, for F-16)
The MAA-1 “piranha” relies on infrared passive guidance which seeks the target’s heat emissions coming primarily from the engines. The missile’s outstanding maneuverability allows it to perform at 50g. It performs as a ‘launch and forgets’ missile, that means once launched the missile doesn’t require input data coming the aircraft’s sensors to hit its target, and a laser fuse is responsible for detonating the warhead.
Indian Air Force
1. AIM 132 ASRAAM (Jaguar and Tejas, expected for Su-30MKI)
One of the best WVRAAM in the world, the AIM-132 can outperform all existing short-range missiles in close-in combat missions. It works on the Imaging Infrared guidance system and has a low-drag design concept incorporating body lift technology. It is fitted with a high-explosive blast fragmentation warhead with impact and laser proximity fuses. It features “both Lock-On Before Launch as well as Lock-On After Launch.
2. Python 5 (for Tejas)
One of the marvels of Israeli technology, Python-5 can be launched from very short to near beyond visual ranges with greater kill probability and excellent resistance to countermeasures. Imaging infrared guidance with high off-boresight capability provides accurate precision irrespective of evasive target manoeuvers or deployment of countermeasures. Imaging infrared guidance with high off-bore sight capability provides accurate precision irrespective of evasive target manoeuvers or deployment of countermeasures. It has a combination of Lock On-After-Launch (LOAL) capability and a dual waveband Focal Plane Array (FPA) seeker provides excellent acquisition and tracking capabilities of even small, low signature targets in look-down, adverse background, and cloud environments.
3. RVV-MD (for Su-30MKI and MiG 29)
Due to some contract problems, India is trying to obtain the latest Russian alternatives for European missiles. RVV-MD is one of them. The RVV-MD is an intense jamming resistant WVRAAM. This high maneuverable missile is intended for fighter aircraft and attack helicopters. RVV-MD is provided with a two-color passive IR seeker, thrust vectoring control, a fixed-thrust solid fuel motor, and a radar proximity fuze or a laser proximity fuze (RVV-MDL version). The 9 kg warhead is of rod type. The RRV-MD is follow-up development based upon the R-73 missile and will be supplied to the latest generation of Russian fighter aircraft such as PAK FA stealth fighter.
Thanks to Military Marvels for the post, please do check them in the link provided.