We had reported in January, as part of our newsbreak, that the Indian Air Force’s move to sling British ASRAAM air combat missiles onto its Russian Su-30 fighters was unlikely to go down well with Moscow. And now it’s official — Russia isn’t pleased at all.
“No country would allow this,” said Vladimir Drozhzhov, deputy director of Russia’s Federal Service of Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC). “This is mostly out of concern for the security of the technology. We are concerned about a foreign manufacturer invited to integrate anything on our equipment.”
Drozhzhov, who was taking questions from a group of visiting Indian journalists at the Rosoboronexport offices in Moscow also indicated that Russia usually informed its customers that liabilities and after-sales support on supplied equipment stood jeopardised if the customer embarked on “any conrtact, modernisation or upgrade” that didn’t involve the “participation of the OEM.”
“It’s a universal practice, not just in Russia,” Drozhzhov said, also confirming that Russia had received no formal word from the Indian Air Force about the move. With IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa in Moscow this week on an official visit, it is possible that Russia will record its concerns on the issue. The IAF, on its part, is looking at the ASRAAM integration as a rare break from history — an attempt to standardise a weapon across its combat aircraft fleets to tap into attendant doctrinal and commercial economies.
Russia’s misgivings go deeper than just concerns over technology security or being kept ostensibly out of the IAF’s re-weaponisation drive on a Russian fighter. As Livefist reported, the IAF is looking to fully replace the Su-30 MKI’s current close combat missile — the Russian-built Vympel R-73 — with the ASRAAM in phases, and then standardise the ASRAAM across its fleet of combat aircraft.
While the India-Pakistan air skirmish over Jammu & Kashmir on February 27 gave the R-73 missile a new glow — with the IAF quickly ordering fresh stocks of this and the RVV-AE medium-range missile for its MiG and Su-30 fleets — the order was more by way of topping up reserves. What Russia will actually deem as jeopardised by the ASRAAM-Su-30 integration effort is an ongoing pitch to sell a newer generation version of the R-73 to India — the RVV-MD, along with longer range variants.
Unlike a radar-guided missile, the heat-seeking ASRAAM doesn’t require complex modifications — the IAF, as Livefist reported, has already modified the software on a pair of Su-30s to deploy the ASRAAM. A first test could take place later this year. The ASRAAM, already integrated on IAF Jaguars, will see test firings begin this year, with a move to arm a limited number of Hawk trainers to move forward too.
It is unclear if Russia’s concerns over the ASRAAM integration will escalate into any kind of flashpoint. The trajectory of the India-Russia relationship on the Su-30 suggests India is using its heft to exercise weapons flexibility. Russia has supplied 222 Su-30 kits to India for assembly at HAL’s license-building facility in Maharashtra. The Indian Air Force has formally asked Russia for 18 more, which will cement India’s already significant place as the world’s largest — by far — operator of the Su-30 type. Add the pipeline proposal to upgrade at least 84 Su-30s to the ‘Super 30’ standard, and you have a slice of the defence pie that won’t stop giving any time soon.
Russia is expectedly indignant about being kept out of the loop on the ASRAAM integration, but it could be a minor fold in the larger circumstances. Russia is executing Indian armament contracts worth $14 billion in total at this time and continues to be one of India’s most sustained suppliers of military equipment.