The Indian Air Force (IAF) is increasing its supply of Meteor missiles due to the delay in the Astra MK-3 development

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to make a strategic decision to bolster its acquisition of the Meteor missile, a European active radar-guided beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM). This expansion is a result of the delay in the development and production of the Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR), also known as Astra MK-3, by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

The Astra MK-3, intended to enhance India's air-to-air missile capabilities, is still five to six years away from entering production and has yet to undergo airborne developmental trials. In light of this delay, the IAF is increasing its reliance on the Meteor missile. Overcoming initial integration challenges, the IAF is now able to equip a broader range of aircraft with this formidable BVRAAM, thanks to the development of indigenous radar systems.

Integration Challenges Overcome

Initially, the manufacturer of the Meteor missile, MBDA, restricted its integration with Russian and Israeli Fire Control Radars (FCR), limiting the missile's deployment to specific aircraft in the Indian fleet. Notably, this restriction affected its integration with the Su-30MKI and TEJAS MK-1 fleets. The Meteor missile is celebrated for its significant "No Escape Zone" (NEZ) against fighter-sized targets, providing a substantial advantage in air-to-air engagements.

To tackle these integration challenges, the IAF is embarking on two crucial initiatives. First, the Su-30MKI fleet's Russian radar systems are being replaced with the domestically developed Virupaksha Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, part of the "Super-30" Upgrade Proposal by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). This upgrade facilitates the integration of the Meteor missile with the Su-30MKI, a significant enhancement in the aircraft's air-to-air capabilities.

Uttam AESA Radar For TEJAS MK-1A

Secondly, the TEJAS MK-1A fleet is poised to receive the Uttam AESA radar, developed by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE). This radar system eliminates previous objections raised by MBDA, ensuring the seamless integration of the Meteor missile onto the TEJAS MK-1A.

While the IAF has already acquired approximately 250 Meteor BVRAAMs for its 36 Dassault Rafale fleet, relying solely on the Rafale fleet for deployment is seen as a limitation when enforcing aerial superiority. Given the limited number of Rafale aircraft in the IAF's inventory, addressing this limitation is crucial.

To address this concern, the IAF is taking steps to equip Su-30MKI squadrons with the locally developed Astra MK-I BVRAAMs. Soon, TEJAS squadrons will follow suit. Furthermore, the Astra MK-2, with an improved range exceeding 160 kilometers, is scheduled to undergo comprehensive testing later this year against aerial targets. This advanced missile is expected to enter production in under two years, further bolstering India's air-to-air missile capabilities. This strategic move enhances India's air combat capabilities and ensures readiness for a range of scenarios in the region.