Indian Air Force to Replace Russian-made R-77 Missile With Israeli I-Derby ER

Python 5 and i-Derby missile (Source Rafael.co.il)

The Indian Air Force is set to equip its fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole fighters with the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems I-Derby ER (extended range) beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), according to a report by Jane’s. The new missiles will replace the aging Russian-made Vympel R-77 (AA-12 ‘Adder’) AAMs by 2021-22.

Official sources told that the Indian Air Force is in talks with Rafael to acquire the active radar-guided I-Derby ER, which has a range of 100 km, adding that the procurement process for the missiles could be finalized “imminently.”

The latest developments come after the fire-and-forget I-Derby ER missile, which features a software-defined radar seeker and a dual-pulse solid rocket motor, was selected to be the primary AAM to arm India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft following successful test-firings in July 2018.

The Indian Air Force’s Su-30MKI fleet will presumably be armed with a beyond-visual-range air to air missile by 2022. According to local media reports, the Indian Air Force is considering arming its fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole air superiority fighter jets with the Israeli-made Rafael Advanced Defense Systems I-Derby extended range (ER) beyond-visual-range missile or BVRAAM by 2022.

The Israeli I-Derby ER is predicted to exchange the aging Russian-made Vympel R-77 also mentioned as “AA-12 Adder” air-to-air missiles (AAMs) currently being carried by the Su-30MKI. Russian R 77 was found wanting during the last year when the Indian Air Force fighters faced Pakistan Air Force PAF. In this article, Defense Updates analyzes why India plans to exchange Russian R 77 missile by Israeli missile I-Derby ER in its Sukhoi Su-30 MKI.

Sukhoi Su 30 MKI Su-30MKIs, a customized variant of Sukhoi Su-30 is deployed by the Indian Air Force. It is a multirole fighter capable of executing both air-to-air and air- to-land attack missions. Su-30MKI has abilities almost like the Sukhoi Su-35 with which it shares many features and components.

It is interesting to note that the MKI version includes Israeli and French avionics. For example, the aircraft is fitted with a French-made heads-up display system and Israeli’s made EW system and a complicated targeting pod.

The IAF fleet of Su-30 MKIs consists of more than 272 aircraft. The first 50 aircraft were inbuilt-Russia and delivered to India in fly-away condition. The remaining aircraft have been assembled locally by Indian state-owned aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited or HAL. The IAF plans to upgrade its fleet of SU-30MKI to “Super Sukhois,” which includes fitting the aircraft with new long-range, precision-strike weapons systems, upgraded engines, and more advanced avionics.

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Wakeup Call For IAF

The decision needs to be seen in the context of the recent aerial skirmish between Indian and Pakistani fighters. Viewers may note that on 27th Feb 2019, a day after the bombing of the JeM terrorist training facility in Pakistan by the Indian Air Force, a short air battle ensued between Indian and Pakistani fighters. The Indian Sukhoi-30MKIs and other jets scrambled to intercept the incoming Pakistani fighters and found it difficult to engage the F-16s as they were outraged.

The Pakistani F-16s were armed with the AIM-120C advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs), which have a variety of about 105 km or around 65 miles whereas the Indian fighters had Russian made R-77 that has a range of around 80 km or around 50 miles. Pakistani fighters fired several of them at the Sukhoi-30MKIs before the latter could even get into their firing range. The Su 30MKIs were able to jam the missile and they fell to the ground harmlessly.

Indian Air Force (IAF) had displayed parts of the AIM-120C-5 fired by the F-16 during a press briefing. Though one of the Indian Mig 21 piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman shot down a retreating Pakistani F16 with short-range R-77 missile, this was a wakeup call for Indian Air Force.

Instead of close-range dogfights, the main target is on beyond visibility (BVR) combat. The idea is to require out the enemy at long ranges before he can fire. A missile is taken under consideration to be BVR if it can strike at a spread of 20 nm or 37 km and beyond. It was clear that a much better Air to Air missile was needed within the inventory.


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