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Astra Mk-2, which uses dual-pulse solid rocket motor for extended reach and better kinematics during the kill phase, is likely to be tested shortly and will restore the air-to-air combat superiority of the IAF over the PAF
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army
Astra missile is the first indigenous beyond visual range (BVR) active radar homing air-to-air missile developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Preliminary work on Astra began by 1990 with completion of a pre-feasibility study. Astra was unveiled first time in public during Aero India 1998; described as an elongated Matra Super 530D with a smaller diameter in front of the wings.
The project to develop Astra missile was officially sanctioned in 2004 with a budget of 955 crore. The DRDO-led project was to be assisted by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL). The initial version of Astra reportedly weighed 300 kg with a range of 25–40 km and was planned to be integrated with HAL’s Tejas fighter aircraft. It was tested for the first time in May 2003.
Astra is designed to engage targets at varying ranges and altitudes allowing for engagement of both short-range targets at a distance of 10 km and long-range targets up to a distance of 110 km
Astra underwent redesigning due to control issues and performance deficiencies at high altitude. The redesigned missile had an improved propulsion system and was tested in 2008. By 2013, the missile was redesigned again because of multiple failures caused by adverse interactions between flight control surfaces. The control, guidance, and propulsion systems were also reconfigured. The redesigned missile was lighter than the initial version by around 130 kg. It was tested from the ground thrice in December 2012 and captive trials from a Sukhoi Su-30 MKI were held in April 2013. To replace the Navy’s Barak-1 SAM, the DRDO successfully test fired two VL-SRSAM on February 22, 2021; testing efficacy of vertical launch system and missile's maximum and minimum range.
Astra is designed to engage targets at varying ranges and altitudes allowing for engagement of both short-range targets at a distance of 10 km and long-range targets up to a distance of 110 km. Limited series production of Astra missiles began in 2017. The Indian IAF and the Indian Navy (IN) currently operate Astra missiles. Astra has reportedly been integrated with IAF’s Sukhoi Su-30 MK-1 and is planned to integrate with the Mirage 2000, MiG-29, HAL’s Tejas and the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) when developed.
Astra Mk-1 has been in service with the IAF and Indian Navy since 2019. It has a flight ceiling of 20 km, speed of Mach 4.5, the guidance system consists of fibre-optic gyro based inertial navigation system with mid-course update via data link, and terminal active homing radar.
Astra Mk-1 has been in service with the IAF and IN since 2019. Manufactured by the Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), cost of one missile is 7-8 crore. With a mass of 154 kg, length of 3.84m and diameter of 178mm, it carries a high explosive pre-fragmented HMX/PU warhead weighing 15 kg. It has a flight ceiling of 20 km, speed of Mach 4.5, the guidance system consists of fibre-optic gyro based inertial navigation system with mid-course update via data link, and terminal active homing radar.
Astra is equipped with electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM). Astra uses a smokeless solid fuelled motor that can propel the missile to a speed of Mach 4.5. The maximum range of Astra is 20 km in tail chase mode and 110 km in head-on chase mode. The maximum range is achieved when the missile is launched from an altitude of 15 km. When fired from an altitude of 8 km, the range drops to 44 km and when it is launched from sea level, the range drops further to 21 km. The low aspect ratio wings allow the Astra to engage maneuvering targets up to a range of 90 km in head-on chase mode and 60 km in tail chase mode.It can be launched in both autonomous and buddy mode operation and can lock on to its target before or after it is launched.
Multiple variants of Astra Mk-1 are under development including within visual range imaging and infra-red (IR) homing missile like Astra IR. Trials for a longer range version Astra Mk-2 and further development of Astra Mk-3 is also underway.
After the deployment of Astra Mk-1, multiple variants are under development including within visual range imaging and infra-red (IR) homing missile like Astra IR. Trials for a longer range version Astra Mk-2 and further development of Astra Mk-3 is also underway. The IAF had an advantage over the Pakistani air force (PAF) during the Kargil battle in 1999, but lost it in 2010 when PAF deployed the longer-range American AMRAAM missile.
Now the Astra Mk-2, which is likely to be tested shortly, will restore the air-to-air combat superiority of the IAF over the PAF. Astra Mk-2 uses dual-pulse solid rocket motor for extended reach and better kinematics during the kill phase. The extended range Astra Mk-2 with 160 km range rivals the US AMRAAM AIM 120-D. Astra Mk-2 will use the indigenous seeker manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).
The Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR) engine of Astra Mk-3 is being jointly developed by India in collaboration with Russia. The Mk-3 was first tested on May 30, 2018 and subsequently on February 8, 2019. The Astra Mk-3 is likely to have a range of 360 km rivaling the PL-15, AIM-260 JATM and the MBDA Meteor missile with a range of 350 km. Significantly on October 4, 2021, the IAF released images of the Rafale fighter jet imported from France carrying the Scalp cruise missile which has a range of 500-km. This indicates that we must develop advance versions of the Astra missile with ranges of 500 km and more.