The IAF ordered the ASRAAM in 2014 for its Jaguar jets in a deal worth $248 million. The integration of the ASRAAM on the Jaguar deep-penetration strike aircraft is part of the upgrade of the ageing aircraft

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is looking to integrate an air-to-air missile designed in the UK on three aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF), an international aviation news website reported on Friday.

Flight Global reported that HAL is seeking to integrate the Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) on the Hawk advanced jet trainer, the indigenous TEJAS and the Su-30MKI. The ASRAAM, which was designed in the UK, is built by the European defence conglomerate MBDA. The ASRAAM was ordered by the Indian Air Force for its Jaguar strike fighter fleet in 2014 in a contract worth approximately $248 million.

The ASRAAM is an infrared-homing missile that tracks a target by locking on to its heat signature. The MBDA website describes the ASRAAM as a “within-visual range dominance weapon” with a range “in excess of 25 km”.

Flight Global quoted HAL sources as saying integration of the ASRAAM on the Jaguar fighter will be “completed by this year”, after which the Indian Air Force will conduct firing trials. HAL has been upgrading the Jaguar fleet of the Indian Air Force with new electronics, radar and weapon systems over the past decade. However,  media reports claimed a plan to install new US-designed engines on the Jaguar has been dropped by the Indian Air Force over cost issues. This could mean the aircraft may be retired earlier than planned. The Indian Air Force operates nearly 120 Jaguar jets.

Weighing 88 kg, ASRAAM is a Within-Visual-Range (WVR) dominance weapon with a range of over 25 km. It accepts target information via aircraft sensors, such as radar or helmet-mounted sight, but can also act as an autonomous infrared search and track system. The IAF chose the ASRAAM in 2013 after a contest that involved the Israeli Python, the German Diehl IRIS-T and American Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder. The IAF and state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) are also in technical discussions with the European firm MBDA, which manufactures ASRAAM, to integrate the missile on board the indigenous TEJAS. According to the ThePrint, the integration of the missile with the Su-30MKI and the Jaguar is in the “final stages".

Flight Global reported “HAL is in discussions” with the Indian Air Force for integrating the ASRAAM on the TEJAS MK-1A variant of the Tejas. Last year, the Indian Air Force had committed to buying 83 TEJAS MK-1A jets, but a firm order has not been placed yet. The TEJAS MK-1A has improved electronics and radar systems compared with the baseline Tejas fighters.

Flight Global quoted MBDA as saying “Fitting ASRAAM to TEJAS would be consistent with the IAF’s aspiration for ASRAAM to be its fleet-wide short-range air-to-air missile.” During Aero India, MBDA had tweeted, “ASRAAM is the Indian Air Force’s choice as its next generation close combat missile. The world’s fastest dog-fighting missile, #ASRAAM has superb range and manoeuvrability... Jaguar will be the first of #India’s aircraft to receive it.”

Flight Global also reported HAL is “keen” to modify the Russian-origin Su-30MKI fighter of the Indian Air Force to carry the ASRAAM. The Indian Air Force operates over 240 Su-30MKI jets and the type is the most important aircraft in the force in terms of numbers. Meanwhile, the integration of the missile on Su-30MKI, which is being done on a trial basis, will mark the first time a western missile will arm a Russian fighter. Integrating a European missile on a Russian-designed fighter could ruffle diplomatic feathers given the bad blood in recent years between Moscow and the West over the Crimea situation. The state-run National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), under the Ministry of Science and Technology, has been tasked with proving the stability of the ASRAAM on the Su-30MKI air frame. If the integration is successful, the IAF plans to standardise the missile across the fleet, which is currently armed with the R-73 short-range air-to-air missile. Sources in the defence establishment said MBDA was willing to shift the final assembly line of the weapon system from Bolton in the United Kingdom to the state-run Bharat Dynamics Ltd in Hyderabad.

Flight Global also revealed that MBDA is offering the ASRAAM and Brimstone air-to-surface missile for a modified version of the Hawk built by HAL. The Indian Air Force is the largest export user of the Hawk AJT, operating over 100 aircraft. In recent years, HAL and BAE Systems, the original manufacturer of the Hawk, have offered to modify the aircraft for attack missions.

The Brimstone missile, which has a range of over 20 km, had been extensively used by the UK’s Royal Air Force in operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and in the 2011 strikes in Libya. MBDA was quoted by Flight Global as saying, “with Brimstone, a single Hawk has the ability to accurately and easily destroy six tanks simultaneously”. (With reporting by FlightGlobal, TheWeek & ThePrint)

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