US aerospace company Raytheon announced on Wednesday that it had tested the AIM-9X Sidewinder, a short-range air-to-air missile, from the NASAMS air defence system for the first time.
NASAMS is the acronym for the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, a mobile air defence system manufactured by Raytheon and Kongsberg, a Norwegian company. Media reports earlier this month claimed that India had begun the process to acquire an upgraded version of the NASAMS called the NASAMS-II from the US, in a deal worth approximately Rs 6,000 crore. NASAMS is meant to shoot down aircraft, drones and cruise missiles.
The NASAMS test of the Sidewinder missile was conducted by the Royal Norwegian Air Force in May. From the start, NASAMS has used the ground-launched version of the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM). Incidentally, the AMRAAM was fired by Pakistani F-16 jets against Indian fighters during the aerial skirmish over Kashmir in February. The AMRAAM is a radar-guided missile, while the Sidewinder uses an imaging infra-red seeker, which homes in on the heat signature of a target.
The addition of a heat-seeking missile would allow the NASAMS to better engage stealthy targets that are able to evade radar detection as well as destroy targets when adversaries are able to jam radar systems electronically.
"This flight test opened the door for NASAMS customers to add a vital, short-range layer to their ground-based air defence," said Kim Ernzen, vice president of Raytheon Air Warfare Systems. "Pairing Sidewinder with AMRAAM means forces can have complementary interceptors with a mix of sensors to better engage and destroy threats that may attempt to overwhelm a defence system,” Ernzen added.
The AMRAAM missiles fired from the NASAMS are estimated to have a range of around 40km. The Sidewinder's range is expected to be less than that. At least seven countries have purchased the NASAMS system. The NASAMS has been providing air defence to the Washington DC area since 2005.
The Times of India reported earlier this month the US could send a letter of acceptance for the sale of NASAMS to India by July-August. Once a contract is signed, deliveries are expected in two to four years. In 2018, then defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman cleared the start of the procurement process for NASAMS. NASAMS is being procured for providing air defence to Delhi and is slated to operate alongside the indigenous ballistic missile defence system and the Russian S-400.
The US is also offering India its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and Patriot missiles in a bid to get New Delhi to cancel its purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia.