The Indian Air Force has already indicated it wants its new fleet of Rafale fighters from France to be ready for operations as soon as the jets arrive. Therefore, attention has turned to capabilities the new fighters will offer.
It had been reported earlier this month that France had begun shipping the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile and the Scalp stealth cruise missile to India to arm the Rafale.
On Thursday, news agency ANI reported the Indian Air Force is ordering another unique weapon from France. ANI reported that the Indian Air Force is ordering the AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire) HAMMER (Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range) air-to-ground missiles from France. The order is being processed on an emergency basis.
"The order for the HAMMER missiles is being processed and the French authorities have agreed to supply them to us at a short notice for our Rafale combat aircraft," ANI quoted government sources as saying. "In view of the urgent requirement for these missiles by the Air Force, the French authorities would be delivering the systems to India from the existing stock meant for some other customer," ANI added.
"The HAMMER would give India the capability to take out any bunkers or hardened shelters in any type of terrain including the mountainous locations such as Eastern Ladakh," ANI reported.
Like the Israeli-supplied SPICE smart bombs that the Indian Air Force used in the Balakot attack last year, the AASM HAMMER is actually an add-on kit to an existing 'gravity' bomb.
But unlike the SPICE, the AASM HAMMER is unique in the sense that it has features of both a missile and a glide bomb. Safran, the French company manufacturing the AASM HAMMER, claims it "adds a propulsion kit and a choice of guidance kits to standard bombs”.
The AASM HAMMER is a modular weapon, which can be equipped with a variety of guidance modes such as satellite guidance, infra-red seeker and laser. According to Safran, the AASM HAMMER can be fired at ranges of anywhere between 20km to 70km, enabling the launch aircraft to stay out of range of enemy air defences.
The AASM HAMMER kit can be fitted to bombs of different sizes: 125 kg, 250 kg, 500 kg and 1,000 kg, with the last type meant for 'bunker buster' missions. The fact that it is propelled allows the AASM HAMMER to be used at low altitudes or in hilly terrain, unlike normal bombs that are unpropelled.
A Rafale can carry up to six AASM HAMMER weapons of 250kg weight, which can hit six targets simultaneously.
The AASM first entered service in the French Air Force and Navy in 2008 and was used in Afghanistan that year. The French military highlighted its performance in missions over Libya and Mali in 2011. Qatar and Egypt, both of which use Rafale fighters, have ordered the AASM HAMMER.
A criticism of the AASM HAMMER has been the fact that the weapon was perceived to be very expensive; this had been attributed to the relatively low volume of manufacturing in France as compared to greater numbers of similar weapons built in the US.
French newspaper La Tribune reported in 2017 that Safran intended to reduce the cost of a single AAASM from 120,000 Euros to around 80,000 Euros a piece. In comparison, the US-built GBU-12 230kg bomb costs around 50,000 Euros a piece.
Safran had been offering the AASM HAMMER to India for several years. In April 2016, Safran announced a joint venture with OIS Advanced Technology to manufacture the guidance and glide kits for the AASM HAMMER in India. The JV was announced as being part of the 'Make in India' programme.