Opting for the Israeli Bvraam weapon is supposed to help the Tejas reach its full operational clearance by December 2012. Indian officials last year already gave up on the notion of using the indigenous Astra missile as the main Bvraam, related to development problems.
But Derby is likely to be more than just a stop-gap measure. Indian officials indicate it will probably be the standard fit on the Tejas Mk.2 as well.
The Tejas program, which achieved initial operational clearance in January, still has a long road of weapon qualification trials ahead before it is declared fully operational (Aerospace DAILY, Jan. 11). So far, the Tejas has only proven itself in weapons carriage and release.
Sources within the Tejas program office in Bengaluru say that the Derby was a logical choice for the indigenous fighter since it was fully compatible with the aircraft’s sensors and avionics, particularly the LCA’s Israel Aerospace Industries multimode radar, the Elta EL/M-2032. The fact that the Derby-EL/M-2032 weapon-sensor combination has been proven on the Indian navy’s upgraded Sea Harriers contributed to the selection of the Israeli missile for the Tejas.
Meanwhile, India is still hoping to turn around its indigenous program. The 80-km-range Astra is expected to be test-fired from a Su-30MKI in early 2012. A model of the extended range Mk.2 of the missile was unveiled at Aero India earlier this month. It is to deliver a range in excess of 120 km (74.5 mi.), and also feature a two-way data link between the missile and aircraft. Sources within the Astra team say the Mk.2 would be compatible with all applicable aircraft currently in the Indian Air Force (IAF) inventory, as well as the winner of the $12 billion Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft competition, alongside offerings from companies like Raytheon and MBDA.
Astra program director S.A. Gollakota says the program delays are partly caused by the IAF’s insistence on smokeless propulsion. “We’ve taken time to identify the materials necessary to make this possible,” he notes.
Four Astra missiles were put through extended captive flight trials on an IAF Su-30MKI in late 2009 to test aeromechanical compatibility during high-speed flight and steep dives. The missile also performed day-and-night ground-launches last year.