IN­DIGE­NOUS AIR-TO-AIR MIS­SILE FIRED SUC­CESS­FULLY

In­dia joins exclusive club of US, Europe, Rus­sia and China; biz win­dow opens for com­pa­nies

Business Standard - - FRONT PAGE - AJAI SHUKLA

The de­fence min­istry on Fri­day an­nounced the suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment of the most chal­leng­ing mis­sile In­dia has de­vel­oped so far — the As­tra (pic­tured). Fired from a fighter air­craft trav­el­ling at over 1,000 km an hour, the As­tra de­stroys an en­emy fighter 65-70 km away.

Ac­cord­ing to the min­istry, the lat­est round of tri­als con­ducted off the Odisha coast on Septem­ber 11-14 saw seven As­tra mis­siles be­ing fired from a Sukhoi-30MKI at pi­lot­less air­craft that were des­ig­nated as tar­gets. All seven As­tras hit their tar­gets.

This round of tests “has com­pleted the de­vel­op­ment phase of the [As­tra] weapon sys­tem suc­cess­fully”, stated a de­fence min­istry re­lease.

De­fence Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man con­grat­u­lated the De­fence R&D Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO), which de­vel­oped the As­tra; Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Ltd (HAL), which in­te­grated the As­tra onto the Su-30MKI fighter; and over 50 pri­vate firms that par­tic­i­pated in build­ing the mis­sile.

The As­tra — des­ig­nated as a “be­yond vis­ual range air-toair mis­sile”, or BVRAAM — in­volves rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent tech­nol­ogy chal­lenges com­pared to bal­lis­tic and tac­ti­cal mis­siles. For one, a typ­i­cal As­tra en­gage­ment has both the launcher and the tar­get mov­ing at speeds in ex­cess of 1,000 kmph.

Fired from a py­lon on the wing of a Su-30MKI, the As­tra’s smoke­less pro­pel­lant quickly ac­cel­er­ates it to about 4,000 kmph. The fighter tracks the tar­get con­tin­u­ously on its radar, and steers the mis­sile to­wards it over a data link. About 15 km from the tar­get, the As­tra’s on-board ra­dio seeker locks onto the tar­get; now, it no longer needs guid­ance from the Su-30MKI. When it reaches a few me­tres from the en­emy fighter, the As­tra war­head is det­o­nated by a “ra­dio prox­im­ity fuze”, spray­ing the tar­get with shrap­nel and shoot­ing it down.

Only a hand­ful of mis­sile builders — in the US, Rus­sia, Europe and China — have mas­tered the tech­nolo­gies that go into air-to-air mis­siles. In­dia is now join­ing that elite group.

The As­tra is fired from the Rus­sian Vym­pel launcher — a rail un­der a fighter air­craft’s wing from which the mis­sile hangs. The Vym­pel launcher is in­te­grated with all four of In­dia’s cur­rent gen­er­a­tion fighters — the Su-30MKI, MiG29, Mi­rage 2000 and the Te­jas — al­low­ing the As­tra to be fired from all of them.

As­tra com­po­nents that have been de­vel­oped in­dige­nously. But the mis­sile’s seeker head is still im­ported. This is a key de­vel­op­ment thrust for the DRDO.

On the draw­ing board is a longer-range As­tra Mark II, in­tended to shoot down en­emy fighters up to 100 km away.

With the In­dian Air Force op­er­at­ing 600-700 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.

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