An IDC Report and Analysis


New Delhi, 19 February 2003

The IAF conducted its first ever exercise with a foreign air force on Indian soil and the lid was off all security –– though the draconian Indian Security Act of 1927 is still in force. The French now know more about the IAF at Gwalior than Indians, but then that is the way of Indians and our ‘white skin complex’. We compliment the IAF for having gone ahead and carried out many sorties (media reported 200 sorties) with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) and Within Visual Range (WVR) tactics –– with Indian pilots flying in French Mirages, which have better Radars than the Indian RDYs.

Media reported Indian pilots also learnt about mid-air refuelling from the French KC 135s (converted Boeing 707s). The IAF is soon to acquire the IL 78s (refueller aircraft), with Israeli or Russian pumping pods and fuelling systems. This INTEROPERABILITY is to be complemented and it may be mentioned that the Indian Navy had been doing so for years with foreign Navies –– it was mainly the Indian Foreign Service mandarins who dissuaded contacts, citing Non Alignment as a reason. In any case NAM is slowly dying. It is hoped the IAF invited some Navy pilots also to learn from the exercises.

All personnel involved with the exercise, from the Mirage expert Air Marshal Ajit Bhavnani SASO Central Command, to the lowest ranked must have put their best foot forward and gained operationally.

We have had some experience in controlling IAF pilots and seen foreign Air Forces and we can vouch for the outstanding ability of young Indian pilots who are equal to the best in the world. The French pilots have been showering well-deserved praise on them for their ‘dog fight’ capability. Now the three Services should look at closer inter-service cooperation and interoperability. There is so much that can be gained –– interoperability, budget and procurement policies, etc., to ensure that India's defence from South Block is the very best.

We post below comments from our expert Sayan Mazumdar:

“The recent air exercise between the IAF and the French Armee de l'Air at Gwalior, involving Mirage 2000 fighters of both nations is a significant step in te context of interoperability and modernisation plans of the IAF –– both in terms of projected procurements and air combat tactics. 

For several good reasons air-to-air combat is moving towards BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagements on a significant scale. The fighters of USAF (United States Air Force), Israeli Heyl Ha' Avir and French Armee de l'Air, have profound experience on flexible ground-controlled independent BVR engagements during peace and wartime, on the basis of their on-board systems, which are adequately fed by AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) platforms. These aspects are bound to enlighten the IAF on recent trends. However WVR (Within Visual Range) combat still enjoys a firm footing in the modern combat scenario and holds the key under certain circumstances.

Perhaps the single factor that is pushing air-to-air combat towards BVR engagements is the arrival of deadly WVR AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles) like Russian R-73RDM2 (AA-11 Archer) or Israeli Python 4, with high off-bore sight engagement capability. Mated to HMS (Helmet Mounted Sight) they create a "no escape envelope" projecting destruction of a good percentage of fighters –– of both sides in case of a multi-bogey engagement situation.

To make matters worse the United States Raytheon developed AIM-9X Sidewinder has arrived with a revolutionary ‘staring focal plane array technology’, that has inherently better IRCCM (Infra-Red Counter Counter Measures) and is readily programmable for new IRCCM techniques in future. This particular staring focal plane array technology, also passed to the European ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) project, provides greater ability to reject flares and other countermeasures.

Thus the present trend seems to be the preferred armament of a fair number of active-radar homing "launch and leave" BVR missiles like Russian R-77 RVV-AE (AA-12 Adder), American AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile) or French MICA, along with a low minimum range, so that they can be used both in BVR and WVR engagements. In AMRAAM's case in particular, "vector scan" and other modes along with advanced combat tactics actually denigrate the performance of a dedicated WVR weapon.

With the arrival of high performance AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Arrays) fighter radar and formidable AWACS platforms, BVR combat has become the preferred choice. In future, development of GaAe (Gallium Arsenide) microchips, which have faster processing speeds than silicon, require less power to operate and more resistant to radiation, will enhance the capability of radar even further. Whereas IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) remains a problem because of incorrect and absent returns and "spoofing", AWACS platforms are presently deployed for reconfirmation of enemy airborne targets at extended ranges. In the long term, development of Electro-optical seeker technology coupled with on-board threat database will let the missiles themselves determine the legitimacy of the target.

BVR combat however faces challenges with the arrival of stealth technology which makes detection of fighters at extreme ranges difficult. Possibly for this reason ultra-long-range AAM projects like Russian Novator Ks-172 and western equivalents stand suspended or cancelled. Presently long-range AAM projects like Russian K-77M, or American ERAAM (Extended Ranged Air to Air Missile) are designed to intercept manoeuvring targets beyond 160 km. Energy is conserved to perform hard manoeuvre at long ranges rather than to increase the range even further.

It was satisfying to note that the IAF was quick enough to absorb the French BVR tactics. Before the end of the year the IAF Sukhoi-30s will "engage" USAF F-15s and hopefully will secure an edge.

More importantly, the IAF should conduct joint-exercises with the Israeli Air Force. There are several good reasons. The USAF takes great pride over the combat record of their F-15s and F-16s. The Americans claim that these two types of fighters secured around 150 air-to-air "kills" during wartime without conceding a single loss. They also concede that Israeli pilots secured the majority of these "kills" against their Arab neighbours. Israeli pilot Amir Nahumi is regarded as the lone "F-16 ace" having opened his "account" in 1981, and followed it up with six more victories in Beka'a Valley in 1982. More recently, USMC (United States Marine Corps) F/A-18 Hornets from Balkans theatre armed with standard models of AIM-9 Sidewinder engaged in mock air combats with Israeli Air Force fighters armed with Python 3 and Python 4 missiles in conjunction with DASH helmet mounted sight. The Israelis prevailed in 220 out of 240 engagements.

All these demonstrate the high level of skill and professionalism of Israeli pilots and the Indians are sure to acquire valuable inputs and experience through joint combat exercises with the Israelis. Preferably the Indians will also get the "feel" of Phalcon AWACS system in Israeli service. Recent reports suggest that Phalcon has a detection range of over 800 kilometres against airborne targets and can handle around 60 simultaneous targets.”

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