India will test 300KM range Astra MK3 air-to-air missile next year

The Astra Mk-2 and Mk-3 long-range AAM missiles are likely to be tested next year and in 2024 respectively.

India is going towards a big success in the defense sector. DRDO has informed that it is going to develop the second and third versions of the Astra missile. According to the report, DRDO scientists are working fast to develop the air-to-air missile Astra missile MK-1 and MK-2.

DRDO is developing two advanced variants of the Astra beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, with one of them capable of striking targets at a range of 160km, whilw the other at almost 300km, senior government officials said on Friday on the condition of anonymity.

Talking about its launch, the Astra MK-2 missile will be test in 2023, while the Mk-3 will be test in 2024. Till now indigenous missile of this category did not exist. Earlier on May 31, the Defense Ministry had signed a contract worth Rs 2,971 crore with Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) to equip the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy with Astra Mk-1 missiles and related equipment.

Astra Mk. 3 based on Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR) engine is being jointly developed by India and Russia. The missile was first tested on 30 May 2018 and further test was carried out on 8 February 2019. The aim of the program to develop an indigenous missile rivaling PL-15, AIM-260 JATM and MBDA Meteor missile with a range of 350 km

Astra mk3
Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR) propulsion technology being tested by DRDO from Chandipur, Odisha, on February 8, 2019

The current Astra Mk-1 variant has a range of around 120km. The physical parameters of the Mark 1 (Mk1) version of Astra being produced now is similar to those of the AIM-120C. Astra, in fact, can travel at 4.5 Mach while the AIM 120C has a top speed of 4 Mach.

The defence ministry on May 31 signed a 2,971-crore contract with Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) to equip the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy with Astra Mk-1 missiles and associated equipment, which was seen as a shot in the arm for “Atmanirbharta”, or self-reliance, in the defence manufacturing sector.

DRDO has transferred technology to BDL for the production of the Astra Mk-1 and associated systems.

“Future air combat will be about detecting and striking targets at the farthest possible range. It will be the outcome of increase in the detection ranges of radars and the advent of longer-range missiles. It is important for India to develop missiles like Astra Mk-2 and Mk-3 to meet IAF’s requirements,” said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general, Centre for Airpower Studies.

A top IAF officer told Swarajya that the DRDO is only a short distance away from developing the Astra Mk2, which will have a longer range of 160 km and will be powered by a dual-pulse solid rocket motor.

This motor is a cheaper version of the ramjet (which powers the Meteor). Its design allows the motor to be burned in segments (pulses) and thus achieves the same effect as the ramjet engine.

This will increase the NEZ of the Astra Mk2 to much more than that of both the AIM-120C and the PL-15.

China has developed the PL-15 beyond visual range air-to-air missile that can hit targets at around 200km-300km, while the Meteor with a range of around 160 km is considered the best in its class in the western world, and the new Astra variants will put India in the big league, he added.

Similar to Chinese PL-15 and Indian Astra MK3 Russia has R-37 AAM. R-37 is a Russian hypersonic air-to-air missile with very long range. It was designed to shoot down tankers, AWACS, and other C4ISTAR aircraft while keeping the launch platform out of range of any fighters that might be protecting the target.

The Astra Mk3 will impart a huge edge to the IAF over both the PAF and PLAAF and enable the IAF to fight a ‘two-front’ war.

astra misssile
Astra MK1 AAM

The Astra Mk-1 missile has been fully integrated with the Sukhoi-30 fighters and will now add to the capabilities of other combat planes including the Tejas light combat aircraft, the officials said. Also, the navy’s MiG-29K fighters, which operate from India’s sole aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, will be equipped with the Astra Mk-1 missile.

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis has exposed India’s overwhelming dependence on imported weaponry, especially from Russia, and underlined the urgent need for speeding up the indigenisation drive to become self-reliant.

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