Meteor BVRAAM integration on Korean KF-X fighter program should raise eyebrows in India
MBDA Missile Systems announced on 22 November that it has been awarded a contract by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) for the integration of the Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) onto the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (RoKAF’s) future KF-X fighter aircraft.
According to Hanwha Thales, a local defense firm which won the preferential bidder for the radar development in 2016, announced in 2017 that Israeli firm Elta will be its consultant in the testing of the indigenous radar developed by Hanwha Thales.
South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said it has signed an agreement with Israeli ELTA Systems for airborne testing of the radar. The news comes after reports of termination of the indigenous radar development by South Korean Agency for Defense Development (ADD).
According to the agreement, ELTA will provide technology support for operational testing of the radar. “It’s about technology support related to the operation test of a prototype radar, not the development itself,” the DAPA said.
MBDA’s Double standard towards India
On October 26, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) watched from the sidelines as Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) signed two contracts with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which will condemn the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) to a marginal presence in the IAF’s future fleet.
The contracts signed were for two major avionics systems that will determine the combat capability of an improved Tejas fighter, called the Tejas Mark 1A. One was for the ELM-2052 “active electronically scanned array” (AESA) radar, developed by IAI subsidiary, Elta. The other was for Elta’s “electronic warfare” (EW) system.
Equipping the Tejas Mark 1A with Elta’s ELM-2052 radar will ensure the fighter never carries the world-beating Meteor “beyond visual range” (BVR) air-to-air missile. MBDA, the European consortium that builds the Meteor, has repeatedly told the IAF that it would only fit that missile onto a fighter with a European airborne radar. Choosing an Elta AESA radar for the Tejas Mark 1A, therefore, rules out the Meteor and, with it, any hope that the IAF with buy the Mark 1A in significant numbers.
In making it clear to the IAF that selecting an Israeli radar would mean ruling out the Meteor, MBDA has written five letters to the IAF this year, explaining why it would only integrate the Meteor with European radar.
A BVR missile like the Meteor must be tightly integrated with the fighter’s radar. At the time the missile is fired, its on-board seeker cannot lock onto the target, which is too far away. During the initial period of the missile’s flight, the aircraft’s radar tracks the adversary fighter and transmits directions to the missile through two-way data links. Only when the Meteor reaches a few tens of kilometres from the enemy fighter does its on-board seeker get activated and homes onto the target. Given the missile’s tight relationship with the radar, there is a need for deep integration and sharing of source codes.
In its letters to the IAF, MBDA has cited technology security concerns that integrating the Meteor with Israeli radar would endanger secret source codes and technologies. MBDA, a consortium of firms from six European countries, also believes getting clearances from six capitals would be complicated. In a February 19, 2018 letter to the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, MBDA pointed out that the Meteor “has already been successfully integrated with 3 major European platforms and sensors… The risks inherent to such a demanding Tejas integration programme will be significantly minimised by the selection of a European radar, similar to those with which we have already qualified Meteor”.
MBDA Also Not Confirm or denied, Stand on the integration of Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) on non-European Radar specifically, MBDA has softened its rigid stand to avoid loss of sale of the weapon system and has agreed to provide integration help if India uses Indian made Fire control Radar like UTTAM AESA Radar for MWF or AMCA fighter jets.
The Air Force plans of equipping the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) with the Meteor missiles will help get an edge over its Chinese and Pakistani adversaries but Israeli firms have been chosen for supplying the radar and electronic warfare for the plane.