The Indian air force (IAF) soon will choose a winner in a protracted bid to buy new short-range infrared homing missiles for more than 100 of its Jaguar strike jets.

With the elimination of Diehl’s IRIS-T last year ahead of field evaluation trials, the competition has come down to the Rafael Python-5 and MBDA’s Advanced, Short-Range Air-To-Air Missile (Asraam). The missiles will be mounted on the Jaguar’s unique over-wing pylons, where the platform currently deploys out-of-production Matra R550 Magic short-range heat-seeking missiles.

The IAF is looking to procure 250-300 missiles to beef up its Jaguars. The IAF operates Jaguars for deep penetration and maritime strike, carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons.

The Asraam and Python-5 are both understood to have met performance requirements, though it is not yet clear how they compared in captive-carriage trials. While Rafael declined comment on the ongoing competition, MBDA has said the Asraam scores above the Python-5 in terms of performance and required release envelope to clear the over-wing hardpoint, and also needs fewer modifications to integrate with the Cobham-developed over-wing rail.

The Indian armed forces already have signed up for a version of the Python as part of the SpyDer mobile air defense system, which teams the missile up with Rafael’s longer-range weapon, Derby.

The missile acquisition is part of a long-delayed modernization drive that looks to give the IAF’s Jaguars new turbofan engines (likely to be the Honeywell F125 IN), glass cockpits, an autopilot and stand-off strike munitions. The IAF has long complained that the Jaguars are short of thrust (upgrades have added considerable weight to the platforms), and need more powerful engines.

The modernization of the Jaguar fleet is intended to see the platform in service until after 2030. Since the first Jaguars arrived in India in 1979, they’ve been license-built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, and modernized in phases to give them advanced navigation/attack systems.

“The Jaguar modernization program is crucial considering that the platform is part of India’s nuclear deterrent strength,” an IAF Jaguar pilot associated with the acquisition says. “There have been major delays in keeping the fleet modern, but things are now picking up. New engines and new weapons — both strike and air combat — are decisions that will be taken shortly. The Jaguar hasn’t been used in anger much, but has proven to be an enduring jet that answers well to modernization. It is a priority program for the IAF.”

Jaguar photo: IAF