Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Finally, Tejas LCA, Python-5 Close Combat Missile (CCM) Integration

On April 28, 2021, six years after initiating the project, the Indian MoD announced that its Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has conducted integration of the Python-5 air-to-air missile on Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA). Integration trials ended on April 27, 2021 at Goa.

The MoD press release states, "At Goa, after successful separation trials, live launch of the missile on a Banshee target was carried out. Python-5 missile live firing was conducted to validate target engagement from all aspects as well as beyond visual ranges. In all the live firings, missile hit the aerial target." 

Apparently, Python-5 was tested on the Tejas alongside the Derby-ER, a  Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missile. The Derby-ER is equipped with a Software Based Radio RF seeker and dual pulse rocket motor. The use of SDR technology enables the seeker to be reprogrammed with software upgrades including new waveforms, duty cycles and processing techniques, addressing new threats, countermeasures and techniques that may evolve through the missile's lifespan of 20-30 years. The dual-pulse rocket motor  facilitates high energy target engagement at over 100-km range. 

According to the press release, "Derby missile achieved direct hit on a high-speed maneuvering aerial target and the Python missiles also achieved 100% hits, thereby validating their complete capability. The trials met all their planned objectives." 

"Prior to these trials, extensive missile carriage flight tests were conducted at Bengaluru to assess integration of the missile with aircraft systems on board the Tejas, like Avionics, Fire-control radar, Missile Weapon Delivery System and the Flight Control System. 

The Python-5, developed by Israel's Rafael, is an all aspect missile equipped with dual band imaging infrared (IIR) seeker. With a range that exceeds 20-km and an optional Lock On After Launch mode, the Python-5 has limited BVR capability. 

The missile was first offered to India by Rafael in 2009, when the IAF sought a replacement for its obsolete Matra-produced Magic 550 air-to-air missile carried on the Jaguar’s over-wing pylons, Rafael had pitched the Python-5 in completion with MBDA's ASRAAM. The IAF picked the ASRAAM over the Python-5.

Python-5, however, made its way into Indian Air Force (IAF) inventory as part of the SPYDER system acquired by the IAF . SPYDER is a quick reaction, low level surface-to-air missile system designed to effectively engage aerial threats such as aircraft, helicopters UAVs and precision guided munitions. The system uses ground launched variants of the the Derby and Python-5 missiles to provide integrated layered defense.

Once it was part of the IAF inventory, Rafael offered the Python-5 as a CCM that could be mounted on the outermost wing pylons of the Tejas. Ground integration of the Python-5 with the Tejas was completed by June 2015. However, the project stalled after integration issues cropped up forcing the IAF to once again consider ASRAAM as a replacement. Clearly, Python-5 integration issues have now been resolved.