Sharpening the IAF’s Edge
In a major boost to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’, Ministry of Defence, on May 31, 2022, signed a contract with Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) for supply of ASTRA MK-I Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Air to Air Missile (AAM) and associated equipment for the Indian Air Force & Indian Navy at a cost of Rs 2,971 crore under Buy (Indian-IDDM) category.
Till now, the technology to manufacture missile of this class indigenously was not available. ASTRA MK-I BVR AAM has been Indigenously Designed & Developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) based on the Staff Requirements issued by the Indian Air Force (IAF) catering for Beyond Visual Range as well as Close Combat Engagement reducing the dependency on foreign sources. Air to Air missile with BVR capability provides large Stand Off Ranges to own fighter aircraft which can neutralise the adversary aircraft without exposing itself to adversary Air Defence measures, thereby gaining & sustaining superiority of the Air Space. This missile is technologically and economically superior to many such imported missile systems.
ASTRA MK-I missile and all associated systems for its launch, ground handling & testing has been developed by DRDO in coordination with the IAF. The missile, for which successful trials have already been undertaken by the IAF, is fully integrated on the Su 30 MK-I fighter aircraft & will be integrated with other fighter aircraft in a phased manner, including the Light Combat Aircraft (Tejas). The Indian Navy will integrate the missile on the MiG 29K fighter aircraft.
The Transfer of Technology from DRDO to BDL for production of ASTRA MK-I missile and all associated systems has been completed and production at BDL is in progress. This project will act as a catalyst for development of Infrastructure and Testing facilities at BDL. It will also create opportunities for several MSMEs in aerospace technology for a period of at least 25 years. The project essentially embodies the spirit of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ and will help facilitate realising the country’s journey towards self-reliance in Air to Air Missiles.
The highly agile, accurate and reliable missile features high single-shot kill probability (SSKP) and is capable of operating under all weather conditions.
Length of the weapon system is 3.8m, while its diameter is 178mm, and overall launch weight is 160kg. Its low all-up weight provides high launch range capability and the system’s airborne launcher can be used with different fighter aircraft.
The electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) feature improves the missile’s target tracking capability by reducing the effect of electronic countermeasures of the enemy targets in jamming environments.
The Astra missile was developed as part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). DRDO carried out mission analysis, system design, simulation and post-flight analysis of the weapon system. The MK-I variant of the new air-to-air missile was first tested in May 2003, from the Interim Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur, Odisha, and a series of developmental ground tests, captive flight trials and user associate launches were conducted in varying weather conditions.
DRDO is also developing the Mk-II variant, which will have a higher range of 160km. The Astra Mk-III, a future variant, is being developed by India in collaboration with Russia. It is based on the advanced solid fuel ducted ramjet (SFDR) engine technology that was tested in 2018, 2019 and recently in March 2021.
It may be noted that DRDO and the IAF jointly conducted a live launch of the Astra BVR missile from a Su-30 MKI combat aircraft in May 2014. The missile successfully demonstrated its control and guidance and aerodynamic characteristics during a test flight from a naval range off Goa in June 2014. The new Indian missile with onboard telemetry equipment was successfully test-fired by a Su-30 MKI aircraft against a Lakshya pilotless target aircraft (PTA) off the coast near the ITR at Chandipur in March 2015. It also demonstrated a turn rate of 30 g in a separate flight, which took place in the same month.
In May 2015, DRDO test-fired the missile twice from a Su-30 MKI aircraft for high g manoeuvres from the ITR in Odisha. The missile’s performance in different engagement scenarios was successfully demonstrated in a test-flight held in the same month.
In September 2018, the Astra air to air missile was test-fired to evaluate its high-precision strike capability against manoeuvring threats at the Kalaikunda Air Force Station in the state of West Bengal. The test was conducted as part of a series of final pre-induction trials.
The BVR missile underwent flight tests with Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft in Chandipur, Odisha in September 2019. The successful trials were executed against Jet Banshee target aircraft simulating all possible threat scenarios, demonstrating its end game capability in combat configuration with warhead. The missile also had a direct hit of the target at maximum range.
Astra’s dual-mode guidance consists of an upgraded mid-course internal and active radar terminal homing systems. It allows the Astra BVR missile to locate and track targets at different altitudes.
The weapon system is equipped with a high-explosive pre-fragmented warhead that weighs 15 kg.
A radio proximity fuse (RPF) developed by HAL activates the warhead. This RPF weighs approximately 2.5kg and has a detection range.