Recent combat operations in Afghanistan and Libya have revealed a shift in the modern air force’s role. It has become clear that today’s need is for a multi-role capability. The ability to carry out low-collateral, high precision ground strikes has become paramount but of course, the ability to control the air with effective air-to-air missiles is also of vital importance. This thinking lies behind the much publicised acquisition programme for the Indian Air Force’s future MMRCA aircraft.
This single MICA missile system had to cover all facets of the air-to-air battle – BVR (Beyond Visual Range) interception, dogfight and self-defence.
At Aero India, MBDA will be showcasing a full range of air-launched weapons which are capable of providing modern air forces such as the IAF with exactly this, a range of air-to-air and air-to-surface capabilities to ensure air dominance as well as unparalleled performance against a wide range of static and moving fast moving targets.
A leading edge air-to-air capability is crucial for survival in modern air combat. At Aero India MBDA is displaying three very unique weapons: ASRAAM, MICA and Meteor.
The ASRAAM, advanced short range air-to-air missile, already in service with the UK’s RAF and Australia’s RAAF, is being discussed in relation to the upgrade planned for the IAF’s Jaguar bomber fleet. Recognising that short range dogfights are a hit and miss affair and best avoided, MBDA developed ASRAAM to ensure first shot, first kill. Its sleek design and larger airframe diameter give the missile the exceptional speed and agility giving it this combat winning capability. For the Jaguar, it is features such as these as well as its speed off the rail, the lowest drag of any SRAAM weapon on the market and its shoot-up capability which combine to make this the perfect weapon for the aircraft’s above wing pylons, just what such a low-flying bomber (and one that is less agile than a pure fighter jet) needs to defend itself especially considering that incoming airborne threats are likely to have altitude advantage.
MBDA’s MICA missile has been ordered for the IAF’s Mirage upgrade. This aircraft in its upgraded version and armed with a mix of MICA IR and MICA RF weapons provides a formidable capability already much appreciated by the French Air Force among several others. It will provide an excellent enhancement to the Indian Air Force’s operational capability to defend and advance India’s interests.
MBDA has often stated that its strategy in India is to develop ever deeper partnerships within the country’s defence and industrial framework. Technology transfer and industrial cooperation are the ways that the company sees this strategy developing.
Breaking away from established doctrines, the very high technical standards set by MICA are the result of an innovative operational concept which evolved from the global understanding of the air-to-air battlespace and the appreciation of the need for a weapon system that would ensure asymmetry to win in aerial combat.
MICA stands for “Missile d’Interception, de Combat et d’Autodéfense”. When translated into English, this is a clear statement that this single missile system had to cover all facets of the air-to-air battle – BVR (Beyond Visual Range) interception, dogfight and self-defence. The MICA system comprises two versions based on one missile but with interchangeable seekers, MICA RF with an active radio frequency seeker and MICA IR with a passive dual waveband imaging infrared seeker. Both missiles are fully qualified and in mass production, being currently flown by numerous air forces worldwide.
MICA is of course also very closely associated with the Rafale combat aircraft which has been selected by India to meet its MMRCA requirement. A “full MICA” configuration on the Rafale gives a very flexible and high BVR fire power for air superiority during all kinds of missions: combat air patrol, sweep, deep strike, recce, maritime operations. The MICA missile in its BVR mode introduces a new way of waging air combat by offering multi-target capability at extended ranges with the two interoperable guidance systems making it very difficult for the intended target to detect the threat and to deploy the necessary defensive counter measures. For example, when MICA IR is launched, it can fly most of the way to the target before it locks on late in the end-game. This is why it is often referred to as the “silent killer”. In fact both MICA RF and MICA IR are fully BVR, being operable with or without data link target designation updating.
In short range combat, a MICA configuration on an aircraft offers a full (new generation) capability thanks to the outstanding performance of the missile provided by its exceptional agility and manoeuvrability.
If one missile can be held up as an example of international cooperation combined with technology innovation, that missile has to be Meteor. Developed by MBDA to meet the BVR requirements of six European air nations, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK, Meteor features leading edge ramjet technology to provide the end-game speed necessary to create a No Escape Zone several times greater than that of other comparable missiles. This is achieved through a throttleable motor by which the missile’s velocity is controlled throughout its flight phase to ensure that maximum energy is still available at a range where other missiles have already long since run out of power. High end-game speed equates to high end-game agility making Meteor a real game changer in terms of air superiority.
MBDA has often stated that its strategy in India is to develop ever deeper partnerships within the country’s defence and industrial framework. Technology transfer and industrial cooperation are the ways that the company sees this strategy developing. Many companies talk glibly about cooperation, with the Meteor programme MBDA is demonstrating very clearly that it knows how to make international cooperation work.
For major infrastructure targets such as port facilities, control centres, bunkers, missile sites, airfields and bridges, MBDA has developed Storm Shadow/SCALP. This air-launched, stand-off stealthy cruise missile has also been combat tested and in so doing has set the standard in terms of long range precision.
Today’s air combat mission sees a strong demand for the ability to deliver precision effects while minimising collateral damage. Precision surface attack weapons must be able to cover a broader target set than ever before; from static to time-critical targets in fact anything from a fast-moving pickup truck to a tank or armoured car, a Fast In-shore Attack Craft (FIAC) or a frigate, landing craft to an integrated air defence system. High value, hardened infrastructure targets such as command bunkers also need to be considered. MBDA in-service weapons such as Dual Mode Brimstone, Exocet and Storm Shadow/SCALP have been designed with just these requirements in mind.
Having entered service with the UK RAF’s Tornado GR4s flying over Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, Dual Mode Brimstone won significant acclaim following its highly successful deployment during NATO operations in Libya where well over 100 missiles were fired with a reported success rate of 98 per cent.
The missile was conceived in response to an RAF requirement for an anti-armour missile that could be carried by fast jets. Importantly and unlike existing weapons at the time, the RAF wanted a weapon that could seek out enemy tanks autonomously without requiring that a laser tracker remained locked on the target until impact. As a result, MBDA developed Brimstone with an active millimetric-wave (MmW) radar seeker able to operate day and night in extreme environmental conditions unaffected by rain, snow, fog, smoke and battlefield dust. Brimstone’s very narrow seeker beam not only results in exceptional precision it also significantly reduces the chance of detection by an enemy radar-warning receiver.
Dual Mode Brimstone (DMB) resulted following an Urgent Operational Requirement issued by the RAF for an upgrade to Brimstone giving it a man-in-the-loop capability to defeat a wide range of static and fast moving targets in restrictive rules of engagement particularly in complex urban requirements. This was achieved by the addition to the existing radar seeker of a sensitive Semi-Active Laser (SAL) capability. Both modes of firing have been used under combat conditions with exceptionally accurate results. In addition, during the Libyan operation, the weapon’s salvo firing capabilities (in MmW mode) were also proven in taking out concentrations of former-regime armoured vehicles. Of additional interest regarding DMB is its suitability for dealing with a new and developing coastal maritime threat, namely that posed by FIAcs or Fast Inshore Attack Craft.
MBDA at Aero India feature the latest advances in technology and are able to offer air forces a real fighting edge while also ensuring that their aircraft remain both relevant and potent well into the future.
For more sizeable maritime targets, the name Exocet is synonymous throughout the world as one of the most highly effective anti-ship missiles. Already ordered by the Indian Navy in its SM39 version to equip its future Scorpene submarines currently under construction at the Magazon dockyards, Exocet is also available as AM39, an air-launched version currently deployed on the French naval Rafales. As well as France, Exocet AM39 is also in service with the the navies of 11 other countries. In its latest evolution, Block22 Mod2, Exocet AM39 has been digitised to meet the requirements of the latest generation of rotary and fixed wing aircraft.
For major infrastructure targets such as port facilities, control centres, bunkers, missile sites, airfields and bridges, MBDA has developed Storm Shadow/SCALP. This air-launched, stand-off stealthy cruise missile has also been combat tested and in so doing has set the standard in terms of long range precision. It features a unique “BROACH” warhead with a precursor charge opening up the way for the weapon’s main charge enabling it to destroy hardened targets such as control bunkers. Mission data, including target reference scene and aim point, are programmed into Storm Shadow/SCALP on the ground (whilst loaded or in storage preparation areas) so demands on aircrew are kept to a minimum. The fire and forget missile once launched will find its way to the intended target autonomously which, combined with the missile’s range of over 250km, allows the launch aircraft to keep well clear of danger from enemy air defences.
After launch at either medium or low altitude, Storm Shadow/SCALP descends to its optimum low-level cruising altitude thereby avoiding radar detection. The missile follows its pre-planned trajectory through continuous updates to its navigation system. This is supplied by the missile avionics, which incorporates an Inertial Measurement Unit combined with both digital terrain profile matching and GPS (Global Positioning System). This multi-sensor navigation system gives Storm Shadow/SCALP exceptional navigational accuracy as well as a high resistance to enemy countermeasures during the final target approach, terminal guidance is achieved using an imaging infrared seeker, supported by an automatic target recognition system which compares the actual scene with the memorised target reference scene, allowing the missile to be guided onto the selected aim point with extreme accuracy.
As further demonstration of MBDA’s expertise in long-range precision, the Aero India stand will also feature the Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missile. With similar operational capabilities as Storm Shadow/SCALP Taurus has a very special feature within its Mephisto warhead. This enables the missile to “count” the voids it passes through a building to ensure that maximum effect is delivered exactly where required, for example at a known floor-level within a targeted building.
The weapons exhibited by MBDA at Aero India feature the latest advances in technology and are able to offer air forces a real fighting edge while also ensuring that their aircraft remain both relevant and potent well into the future. Air forces need to start thinking now how they will deliver winning capability for the future, with the flexibility provided by MBDA to meet the demands of 21st Century war fighting, the solutions are already available.