In IAF circles, the combination of a Russian air-to-air missile, with an Israeli helmet-mounted display, to be worn by an Indian pilot, flying a French-built Mirage 2000 fighter, has been described as the ultimate innovative fix, says the Indian television news channel NDTV.
The antecedents about this novel experiment go back to 2008 when the IAF worried about delays in the procurement process and was concerned about the long-term air strike efficacy of French-built R-530D and Magic II air-to-air missiles on Mirages. They then took the out-of-the-box decision to integrate Russian weapons systems onto French-designed and manufactured aircraft.
The R-73 was already in service with the IAF’s Sukhoi 30s, MiG-29s and MiG-21 'Bison' jets. This integration onto a Western platform had never been attempted before.
The French government also protested, saying it was disinclined to assist in the integration of Russian weapons systems onto a French platform. The French were then keen on India importing a new generation of French-designed weaponry.
The integration did take place, with some timely help from engineers of the Israeli firm Elbit, which had then been contracted to supply sophisticated DASH helmet-mounted displays, devices which project mission-critical information into pilot's view.
Integrating the R-73 missile to the DASH helmet was easier said than done.
An IAF officer, aware of the integration challenges, told NDTV on condition of anonymity, that algorithms had to be developed so the radar of the Mirage and the Israeli helmet-mounted sight could "communicate" with the Russian missile.
He said it would have been impossible to integrate the Russian missile without the proper algorithms and modified software.
"Neither French nor Russian help was made use of. They were obviously upset," the IAF officer told NDTV, but the integration of the R-73 missile with the French Mirage aircraft has been quite a success over the last decade. In fact, it has been much more capable than the Magic II that it replaced, he added.
For over a decade, the IAF never discussed how it went about the integration. But it showcased a Mirage fitted with the R-73 for the first time on June 24 this year, on the 20th anniversary of the IAF strike on Pakistani troops on Tiger Hill during the 1999 Kargil War.
During the Kargil War, Israeli engineers also integrated the Litening laser designator pod onto IAF Mirages in 12 days flat, to enable the Indian Air Force to launch laser-guided bomb attacks for the first time in its combat history.
The Russian R-73 missile is now in the process of being progressively replaced in the Indian Air Force.
Since 2015, the Indian Air Force has also been receiving heavily modified Mirage 2000s which are now equipped with French MICA air-to-air missile.
"The Mica is about four times more capable than the R-73 in close combat and is integrated with the (Israeli) DASH helmet-mounted sight as well," an IAF pilot familiar with the upgrade process told the Indian television channel.
The R-73 is the same missile used by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who flew a MiG-21 'Bison' to shoot down a Pakistani F-16 in the battle along the Line of Control on February 27, a day after India struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror training facility near Balakot in Pakistan.