IAF Jaguar Fighters To Get ‘F-35 Missiles’; New-Gen French Missiles To Boost ‘Nuclear Capable’ Warplanes

After giving a new lease of life to its 1970s Sepecat Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is looking to integrate New Generation Close Combat missiles for the fighter jets.

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The IAF, the only air force in the world to operate these fighters, has revitalized them by performing a major upgrade that includes new attack and navigation avionics.

The IAF has sought proposals from industry players to modify and re-equip two aircraft with new-generation missiles. The missiles will be integrated with the aircraft’s new Display Attack Ranging Inertial Navigation-III (DARIN-III) avionics and helmet-mounted display.

The missiles are being identified as European firm MBDA’s Advance Short Range Air-To-Air Missile (ASRAAM).

The IAF tender calls for the inclusion of Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) to improve the pilot’s situational awareness and targeting capabilities. HMDS projects critical flight and targeting information directly onto the pilot’s helmet visor.

The IAF has selected NGCCM (next-gen close combat missile) to replace the aging Matra R550 Magic on the Jaguar strike aircraft’s over-the-wing pylon. ASRAAM has an infrared homing system that can track and hone in on a target range inside the line of sight. The missile weighs 88 kg and has a range of more than 25 km.

“IIR (Imaging Infrared) is the most advanced IR missile. There is no information on the target when IR missiles are launched since they are passive. With a Helmet-mounted Sighting Display, pilots can cue the missile head to look toward the target without turning the aircraft on that side. This makes off-boresight launch possible,” an official told the EurAsian Times.

“The missiles also make it possible without input from onboard radar making ‘over the shoulder’ shots possible as no radar looks behind,” the official added.

ASRAAM is in service with the Royal Air Force as its Within Visual Range (WVR) Dominance weapon. The weapon has been deployed by the Royal Australian Air Force on its F/A-18 Hornet.

In WVR air combat, the ability to strike first is vital. A pilot engaging an enemy needs a missile that reacts more rapidly than ever before with the speed and agility to maximize the probability of a kill, regardless of evasive target maneuvers or the deployment of countermeasures.

ASRAAM accepts target information via aircraft sensors, such as radar or helmet-mounted sight, but it can also act as an autonomous infrared search and track system. The RAAF has demonstrated successful ‘over the shoulder’ firing in Lock On After Launch (LOAL) mode against target drones that were behind the wing-line of the launch aircraft.

The missile has been fully integrated with Eurofighter Typhoon, Tornado, and F/A-18. Now, ASRAAM is also being integrated into the F-35 Lightning II.

The IR missiles, also known as fire-and-forget, will enable Jaguars to successfully engage various types of combat aircraft, transport platforms as well as cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The project will involve studying the Jaguar’s existing DARIN-III avionics, developing technical specifications, modifying the existing software, airframe, and wing pylons, conducting ground and flight trials, and final certification.

Jaguars – Penetrate Deep, Strike Hard

The IAF’s Anglo-French Sepecat Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft are one of its primary strike jets in the combat fleet. Out of the 140 aircraft acquired initially, 125 remain in service.

Inducted into the IAF some four decades back, it has undergone multiple upgrades in its avionics and weapons, keeping it relevant in its role for the IAF.

A French Air Force Jaguar A/E Fighter-Bomber aircraft flies a refueling mission over the Adriatic Sea, in support of Operation JOINT FORGE.

India is the sole remaining Jaguar operator, with other users—France, the UK, Oman, Nigeria, and Ecuador—having retired them. India has adopted Jaguar fighter-bombers to deliver nuclear gravity bombs, making them an essential part of its nuclear triad.

The IAF had procured 31 decommissioned Jaguar airframes from France with the purchase of Rafale, to cannibalize them for their spares and ensure the serviceability of its aircraft.

Jaguars have played an important role in various conflicts in India. During Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka and the 1999 Kargil War, the aircraft conducted reconnaissance missions. The photo-recce missions conducted during the Kargil War along the Line of Control helped bomb enemy positions using precision munitions.

In the 1970s, forty of these aircraft were imported from the UK, and thereafter, the public-sector aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) licensed produced these aircraft in India until 2007. Since then, the fighters have undergone three major upgrades, the latest one being DARIN III.

The DARIN III includes an open-system architecture mission computer, multi-functional displays, an engine and flight instrument system, a new fire control radar, a geodetic height correction system, and an inertial navigation system with satellite navigation.

The DARIN III Jaguars have also been equipped with the Israeli EL/M-2052, giving it an improved defensibility against electronic warfare jamming. By having multiple transceiver modules (TRM), each transmitting in a different radio frequency, the EL/M-2052 also has a lower probability-of-intercept of enemy radar warning receivers.

A pair of Indian Air Force Jaguars flying in formation besides a pair of Indian Navy Sea Harriers and a pair of U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets, flying over the Indian Navy aircraft carrier INS Virat during Exercise Malabar. Via: Wikipedia

In other words, the Jaguar DARIN III would be more difficult to detect and jam.

EL/M-2052 is an advanced multi-mode radar capable of air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-sea tracking, targeting, and engagement. Elta has not disclosed the radar’s range or the number of targets it can track and simultaneously engage.

However, the most important component of the aircraft, its engine, has yet to undergo upgradation. The aircraft, powered by two Rolls-Royce Adour Mk 811 turbofan engines, is underpowered. A more powerful engine is required to push its flight envelope and allow it to operate at high altitudes.

The aircraft keeps losing thrust with time and has lowered capacity by 15-20 percent due to an antiquated engine that needs replacement due to substantial wear and tear. As previously noted by the EurAsian Times, the aircraft is also under-equipped to carry out its combat missions effectively.

The Jaguar fleet has no specified airframe calendar life and is only based on the Fatigue Index. Based on the individual aircraft operational exploitation of the fleet, it is believed that it has an approximate residual of 10-15 years of airframe life.

The IAF aims to replace these aircraft with the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk-2.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • The author can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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