INDIGENOUS AIR-TO-AIR MISSILE FIRED SUCCESSFULLY
India joins exclusive club of US, Europe, Russia and China; biz window opens for companies
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.