Beyond Visual range Air-to-Air Missiles are designed to shoot down hostile aircraft without allowing them to use within visual range missiles (WVRAAMs) in an air battle. IAF has not specified the range requirements for the new BVR missile but given the past statements of the IAF officials it is likely to be over 100 kilometer.
New generation aircrafts equipped with long range BVR missiles operating along with the newly acquired Israeli IL-76 Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) will be the frontline force which will be used by the IAF to establish air superiority over the battle field and support the Indian Army.
Indian Air Force is already using the Vympel R-27 (AA-10 Alamo) BVR missile which uses the semi active radar homing. R-27 is an old BVR missile displayed a very poor performance during the 1999 Eritrean-Ethiopian War. In that conflict R-27 missiles proved to be highly ineffective and unreliable.
IAFs main BVR missile in use is another Russian missile produced by the Vympel, R-77 (AA-12 Adder) is an active radar guided missile (AA-12 Adder) which is broadly considered the Russian counterpart to the American AIM-120 AMRAAM.
There are likely to be three contenders for the possible Indian purchase of new generation long range BVR missiles.
First one will be the improved version of the R-77 Adder also known as the R-77M1. R-77M1 is will use a ramjet propulsion to achieve much greater range then the basic R-77 and will the main BVR missile for the Russian PAK FA fifth generation fighter jet. IAF has already signed a contract to invest billions of dollars in the project and is looking to purchase around 300 PAK FA fighter jets.
Second BVR contender is the American AIM-120D which is an improved version of the AIM-120C AMRAAM. Pakistan air force has recently purchased 500 AIM-120 C-5 AMRAAM BVR missiles from the United States for its F-16 C/D Block 52+ and F-16 AM/BM fighter jets. AIM-120 C-5 AMRAAM BVR missiles are credited with range of around 105 kilometers. American AIM-120D offers longer range over the C-5 version.
Last contender for the contract will be the European Meteor BVR missiles which uses the ramjet propulsion and its manufactures claims that Meteor missile has the largest No Escape Zone of any BVR missile. Meteor has been developed to meet the requirements of a long range BVR missile of six European nations (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and UK). Missile is currently in pre-production phase and remains on schedule to deliver the first production missiles during 2012.
Indian airforce is expanding its fleet of of Su-30MKI fighter jets and is upgrading the Russian MiG-29. Plans are under way to upgrade the French Mirage-2000 to the latest configuration of Nirage-2000-5 MKII.
India is also holding a competition for the purchase of atleast 126 MMRCA (multi-role medium combat aircraft) which include contenders like Swedish Saab JAS-39IN (based on newly developed NG version)Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, French Dassault Rafale, Russian Mikoyan MiG-35, and the American F-16IN based on Block 60/62 and F/A-18IN Super Hornet ( Indian version of E/F models ).
New BVR missile is most likely to be integrated on the aircraft which will win the MMRCA contract. It is likely that the American AIM-120D or European Meteor will hold advantage in term of availability, sophistication and integration over the Russian R-77M1 missiles.
Putting a big question mark on the performance of the Russian beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missiles with the Indian Air Force, an audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has noted that nearly half the missiles tested either did not home in on targets during evaluations or failed ground tests because they were ageing much before their shelf lives.
The R 77 (RVV-AE) BVR missiles, fitted on board the Su-30 MKIs, MiG-29s and MiG-21 Bisons, were bought from Russia starting 1996. More than 2,000 missiles were ordered after the Kargil conflict and 1,000 have been delivered.
Couple of years ago Indian Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reported that R-77 BVR missiles failed during the during ground tests, inspections and test firings conducted by the Indian Air Force and it had severely affected the “operational preparedness” of the IAF.“ Report was based on the facts and figures released by the Indian air force.