Astra Air-To-Air Missile Moving Ahead Full Steam
Taken up as an ambitious and challenging missile projects, the ASTRA beyond visual range air-to-air missile had entered the final lap in Sept 2018 of technical trial launches. Over 20 aerial tests have taken place since it was first fired from an IAF Su-30 MKI in May 2014, after a few more tests the weapon will be handed over to the Indian Air Force for user trials before induction
Initially during formative stages the missile had some technological challenges which have been overcome successfully. DRDO with active IAF support, completed all the technical evaluation and user trials. ASTRA is now ready for induction. DRDO is very confident of extending the range to nearly double of its existing range, making it the most lethal BVR missile.
Though a handful of yellow journalists or the “shit “ of the Indian media had been running down this missile. They even uttered that the Indian Air Force was not even ready for any kind of aerial skirmish with PAF that occurred last year after the incisive Balakot air strikes.
Contrary to these highly motivated alarmism, DRDO and the IAF have readied a potent air-to-air missile which is as good in class as currently available anywhere in the world. Since May 2014, the Astra has battled steady headwinds to turn the corner and find an unusually pleased customer in the Indian Air Force. Following a rapid-fire spate of seven guided tests, topped off with the two ‘combat’ tests, the IAF signed on for 50 pre-production Astra missiles, a show of confidence in a program.
In Sept 2018, this 11-foot long missile was tested off from a Su-30 MKI fighter jet about 120 kilometres off India’s east coast and over 50 kilometres from the jet that fired it, the missile smashed into a British-built BTT-3 Banshee target drone.
The missile had been fired for the first time, with the kind of warhead that would be used against an actual enemy aircraft. The 15 kilogram warhead, built by the DRDO’s Chandigarh-based Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) exploded bare feet away from the Banshee, bringing its target down towards the sea in a scattered cloud of debris. Later that day, the same Su-30 jet fired another missile, this time at a range much closer to the missile’s maximum range of 75 kilometres. This time too, the target was knocked out clean.
To be sure, the target wasn’t a twisting, manoeuvring human-driven enemy jet, but the two tests conducted in the missile’s ‘combat configuration’ were everything the Indian Air Force wanted to see.
Further two of the seven Astra missiles tested had undergone a crucial modification. Their seeker, had been replaced. The existing Russian Agat 9B1103M active radar seeker used on the Astra had been replaced with an Indian Ku-band seeker developed by the DRDO’s Research Centre Imarat (RCI) in Hyderabad. While the Indian Air Force had taken on the task of further testing of the Astra as part of a ‘capability discovery’ exercise with the new seeker this year (in coordination with the DRDO), the very fact that it has committed precious financial resources to pre-production units is proof of its pleasure.
India’s state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) has inaugurated a special production facility to manufacture an initial production batch of the indigenously-developed Astra Mk1 beyond-visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM). The production batch is intended to begin arming the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKI’s multi-role fighters by the year-end.
Launched on 27 August 2017 at Sangareddy in southern India, BDL’s ‘dedicated’ unit will initially build just 50 of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)-designed all-weather Astra Mk 1.Thereafter, a planned follow-on Astra production order is intended to equip IAF Mirage-2000H and MiG-29 fighter aircraft – and possibly the locally developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft – supplementing the IAF’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Derby BVRAAM system.
Now already the Astra Mk2 is on the block. It will be using dual pulse rocket motor (cheap alternative of ramjet) which will boost it range to 125km if launched from 12km altitude and will gradually increase the NEZ (no escape zone) of the missile. Astra will be the mainstay of IAF and Navy A2A missile arsenal in the future.
Currently about 50 Astra missiles have entered in the initial production will be handed over to the IAF for some more testing, and will be inducted after the all the tests are done and bugs are sorted out. It is also reported that Mk2 may feature 3D thrust vectoring capability as it won’t have those mid body control surfaces, a unique high-tech feature that few missiles of this class that DRDO can tout.
Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet tactical Air launched Missile is a new breed of an Air-to-Air missile which India has been jointly developing with good friend Russia. SFDR or Astra-2 is India’s first at Next generation beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) which will incorporate booster-ram jet sustainer propulsion system, which will propel new missile in the same class as MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.
The missile flew in its intended trajectory at a speed of Mach 3 and performed as expected perfectly validating the new indigenous technology. “It was a booster phase test of the missile and the mission was a major milestone for the strategic missile
The DRDO which was in charge of developing Astra Mk1 AAM had planned a successor which was still supposed to use a solid propellant which included improvements capability such has increased in excess of 100 km and LOBL (look down shoot/down-look capability) and LOAL modes of operations with improved two way secure data link system.
Present Astra Mk1 has a non-classified range of 75-80km and proposed Astra Mk2 was convinced as a newer version of the missile system developed to compliment each other. Since Astra Mk2 was supposed to be an Extended Range version of the baseline Astra Mk1 which utilized proven technology derived from the Mk1 program it had additional fuel space for the propulsion system to achieve extended range. Astra Mk1 and Astra Mk2 could have provided a superior war-fighting capability for the Indian air force while working in tandem and as an alternative to the import which now IAF is seeking.
With the Indian Air Force operating 600 to 700 fighter aircraft, there will be a need for several thousand Astra missiles. With air-to-air missiles costing in the region of $2 million each, the Astra will provide major business opportunities to Indian firms.