India’s homegrown “Astra” air-to-air missile power

After years of research and many different tests, India’s long-range air-to-air missile (BVR) has officially been operational.

Astra is an Indian all weather beyond-visual-range active radar homing air-to-air missile, designed and developed by the DRDO. It is designed to attack and destroy air targets with high maneuverability and supersonic speed.

The missile’s advanced air combat capabilities allow it to hit multiple targets with high performance. The Astra missile is currently in service with the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy. It has been integrated with the IAF’s Su-30MKI fighter aircraft co-developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The missile will also be integrated with Mirage 2000 multirole fighters, Tejas light fighters (LCA), MiG-29 and MiG-21 Bison fighters, as well as jet fighters Sea Harrier of the Indian Navy.

The Indian government has ordered more than 298 Astra Mk-I missiles for the Air Force and Navy. The missile is considered agile, accurate and reliable, has a high probability of hitting a target in one hit and is capable of operating in all weather conditions.

The length of the weapon system is 3.8m, while its diameter is 178mm and the overall launch weight is 160kg. Its low overall weight gives the system a high launch range and the system’s air-launcher can be used with different fighter aircraft.

Electronic countermeasures (ECCM) improve the missile’s target tracking by reducing the effect of an enemy target’s electronic countermeasures in a jamming environment.

The Astra missile was developed within the framework of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program of the Indian Ministry of Defense. DRDO performs mission analysis, system design, simulation, and post-flight analysis of the weapon system.

DRDO is also developing the Mk-II variant, which has a higher range of 160km. Astra Mk-III, a future variant is being developed which has a range of 350 km. It is based on advanced solid fuel injection (SFDR) engine technology that was tested in 2018, 2019 and as recently as March 2021.

The initial version of Astra reportedly weighed 300 kg (660 lb) with a range of 25–40 km (16–25 mi) and was planned to be integrated with HAL Tejas. It was tested for the first time in May 2003. Later the missile was redesigned and test flights were carried out from a Su-30MKI fighter aircraft in 2009. Test flights to evaluate its engines and propulsion systems were carried out in 2010, while capability tests were carried out in May 2011.

IAF Su-30MKI with 4 Astra MK1 AAM
IAF Su-30MKI with 4 Astra MK1 AAM

DRDO conducted a series of missile test flights from the Su-30 in various mode to evaluate the avionics integration and performance of the search aircraft in 2013.

DRDO and IAF jointly conducted a direct launch of the Astra BVR missile from a Su-30 MKI fighter jet in May 2014. The missile successfully demonstrated its controllability, guidance and aerodynamic characteristics during a test flight.

In May 2015, DRDO test-fired the missile twice from a Su-30 MKI aircraft for high-altitude maneuvers from the ITR in Odisha. The missile’s performance in various combat situations was successfully demonstrated during a test flight held in the same month.

The BVR missile underwent test flights with a Su-30 MKI fighter jet in Chandipur, Odisha in September 2019. Successful tests were carried out on the Jet Banshee target aircraft simulating all possible threat situations, demonstrating its capabilities in a warhead combat configuration.

The Astra BVR air-to-air missile is equipped with a single-stage, smokeless solid-fuel propulsion system. It can intercept and destroy enemy targets with a launch speed from Mach 0.4 to Mach 4.5.

The launch range and launch altitude of the weapon system are 110km and 20km, respectively. The missile can achieve 40 g of rotation near sea level while striking a moving target. 

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