Key point: But India isn't done buying Russian-made weapons.
After losing one of its fighters to Pakistani jets armed with American-made missiles in 2019, India is not happy with its Russian-made missiles.
In fact, it wants to replace its Russian air-to-air missiles with Israeli weapons, according to Indian news site NDTV.
“In two years from now, the Indian Air Force's frontline Sukhoi-30 fighters may be re-armed with Israeli Derby air-to-air missiles after the jet's Russian-made R-77 missiles were found wanting in air combat operations over the Line of Control on February 27,” NDTV said.
During air battles along the Kashmir border on February 26 and 27 of last year, an Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21 was shot down, apparently by a U.S.-made AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) fired by one of Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) American-built F-16 fighters. India claims to have downed a Pakistani fighter – which Pakistan denies – but India was still embarrassed by the capture of its MiG-21 pilot, who was shown on Pakistani television and later returned.
What troubles the Indian Air Force was that Pakistan was able to destroy an Indian jet from long range. “Among the Indian Air Force's fighters which were targeted were two Sukhoi-30s which managed to evade the AMRAAMs which were fired at close to their maximum range of 100 kilometers [62 miles],” according to NDTV. “Fully defensive and desperate to escape the incoming AMRAAMs, the IAF Sukhoi-30s escaped being shot down but were unable to retaliate the F-16s because they were out of position and their own missiles, the Russian R-77s, did not have the range to realistically engage the Pakistani fighters. IAF sources told NDTV that the Russian missiles do not match its advertised range and cannot engage targets which are more than 80 kilometers [50 miles] away.”
The early-model AIM-120A/B has a range of up to 75 kilometers (46 miles). But in 2010, Pakistan received a batch of the AIM-120C-5, with a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles). The most advanced AIM-120D has an estimated range of up to 160 kilometers (100 miles).
“The PAF surprised the IAF by launching air-to-air missiles from inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” said Sameer Joshi, a former Indian Air Force fighter pilot. “The AMRAAM effectively outranged the IAF air-to-air missiles which did not get a command to launch.”
India is now looking to Israel, from whom it has purchased numerous weapons, such as the Heron drone and the Derby, a radar-guided, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile with a range of 50 kilometers (31 miles). To counter AMRAAM-armed Pakistani F-16s, the IAF is looking at the improved I-Derby, which features a more radar seeker and – most importantly – a 100-kilometer (62 mile) range.
But that raises another problem: how to integrate an Israeli missile into a Russian airframe (and an ironic problem, given how much Russian-built planes have been destroyed by Israeli missiles). “Integrating the missile into the Russian fighter will be a challenge and, according to sources, will require Israeli expertise, particularly in developing a data-link between the Sukhoi-30 and the missile, once it is fired,” according to NDTV. “A fighter jet communicates with the missile through the data link and passes on updated vectors (location) of the fighter which has been targeted.”
Strangely, while disparaging Russian missiles and buying Israeli ones, the Indian Air Force is reportedly ordering yet more Russian weapons. Moscow is offering medium- and long-range versions of the underperforming R-77.