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India’s new Astra Missile – All you want to know

The Astra-MkII has a longer range than its predecessor Astra Mk-1, and will contribute significantly to the IAF’s air dominance.

India’s new Astra Missile – All you want to know
The Astra-MkII has a longer range than its predecessor Astra Mk-1, and will contribute significantly to the IAF's air dominance. (Image used for representational purpose)

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has test launched indigenous beyond-visual-range-air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) Astra Mk-II from a Su-30MKI fighter aircraft.

Ahead of the Indian Air Force Day (October 8) celebrations a promo video shared with the media during the annual presser in New Delhi as shots of an Astra Mk-II (BVRAAM) being launched.

Video Courtesy: IAF

This is the first time the video of the launch has been released. The Astra-MkII has a longer range than its predecessor Astra Mk-1, and will contribute significantly to the IAF’s air dominance.

More about Astra-Mk II

The Astra-II missile is said to have a range of 160 km. Not much is known about the technical characteristics of the missile. But Astra IR (80 km range) Astra-1 and Astra-II, and the future Astra-III missile have a common ejector launcher ‘Astra launcher’, which was also tested along with Astra-II missile as per the images released by the IAF.

History

The early 1990s marked the beginning of Astra rocket development. The French rocket Matra Super 530D was then used as a starting point. In 2004, the Indian Ministry of Defence started funding the development. Astra is 3.8 metres long and 175 millimetres wide (254 mm including wings). The entire mass of the rocket surpasses 150 kilogrammes. According to the Astra mk1s technical description, it can attack targets flying at speeds of up to Mach 1.4 at a distance of 110 kilometres.

After launch, the Astra employs ‘Inertial Mid-Course Guidance’ through a secure data connection from its mother aircraft, followed by ‘Active Radar Homing’ from its seeker’s head for terminal guidance. DRDO had decided to equip the Astra missile’s terminal guidance with the Russian ‘Agat 9B1103M’ active radar seeker during the development phase. The Russian active radar seeker was used throughout the whole of Astra’s D&D, including firing testing, up to 2017. DRDO has developed a fully-functional Ku-band active radar seeker for India. This indigenous, form-fitting seeker has been placed on all Astra missiles. Thus, India now has its first BVR AAM with an indigenous active radar seeker built indigenously.

Also Read: Astra Missile Test successful: More power to the IAF’s fighter planes

The Astra-1 is meant to carry a 15-kilogramme pre-fragmented high explosive warhead that is ignited by a radio proximity fuse. The missile’s Electronic Counter-Countermeasure (ECCM) capabilities allow for unrestricted operation in an Electronic Counter-Countermeasure (ECM) environment. The Astra Mark 1, which also finished testing, has a maximum head-on launch range of 100 kilometres, a speed of 4.5 Mach, and launch clearance up to 20 kilometres in height (66,000 ft). The Astra may either be launched by the mother ship or in buddy mode. Extensive and rigorous trials have validated the Astra missile’s warhead capability, maximum launch ranges against head-on and manoeuvring targets, long-range target engagement capability, clear missile separation at supersonic speeds, and launch under high ‘G’ forces, and multiple missile launches against multiple targets.

The IAF has already placed an order for Astra Mk1 missiles. In June, a statement from the MoD stated that Astra Mk1 was conceived and built based on the personnel needs provided by the IAF, catering for beyond visual range as well as close combat engagement, decreasing the reliance on foreign suppliers. And the domestic production of missiles of this kind was not possible, the statement said.

Also Read: Astra missile contract with BDL: Is it another step in opening an export pathway?

The Astra Mk1 deal of Rs 2,971 crore will be completed in six years. The DRDO has finalised the transfer of missile technology and accompanying equipment to Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), and manufacturing has already begun, according to a statement.

The Su-30MKI fighter is already equipped with the Astra air-to-air missile and the IAF currently possesses around 270 Su-30MKI aircraft. Astra missiles are also being integrated into the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) `Tejas’.

During the testing, Financial Express Online has reported the Astra-1 missiles were fired over the entire flight envelope of the Su-30MKI, engaging, destroying, and satisfying all mission objectives for all assigned manoeuvring and non-manoeuvring aerial targets. Also, according to officials, two IAF Su-30 MKI aircraft have been based in Nashik for dedicated testing of Astra missiles.

The physical differences between Astra I and II are not much. Astra II missile is known to have a dual pulse solid rocket motor giving it a longer range. It is expected to have an AESA radar seeker. The design, too, appears to be similar, judging by the photographs. The proximity fuze is expected to be a laser proximity fuze. Astra missiles have a smokeless propulsion system.

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