According to new reports, the Astra air-to-air missile is going to be test-fired from the country’s homegrown LCA Tejas in coming months. This is one of the major steps in indigenization programme of Indian defence forces.
The sources said that the ground trials with the missile are already completed virtually and now the weapon is ready for a flight test, using Tejas as launch platform. The missile already completed test and user trials with Su-30MKI fighter aircraft, and secured the order to supply a batch of limited series production units to Air Force.
Researched and Developed within the country, DRDO Astra is a Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) capable of reaching a speed of Mach 4.5 and hit fighter-sized targets within 110km range using active radar guidance. The range is roughly more than of Russian origin RVV-AE air-to-air missile and tens of kilometers more than Israeli Derby air-to-air missile, the primary BVRAAMs of Su-30MKI and Tejas respectively at present time.
The Indian Air Force has planned to reduce its dependency of foreign weaponry and replace it with Indian counterparts. The Astra integration is also under the program and the organisation assured that it with the primary BVRAAMS of Su-30MKI, MiG-29UPG, Mirage 2000I and LCA Tejas in near future, replacing the Russian R-77 and R-27, French MICA EM and Israeli Derby missiles.
Different variants of missiles are also planned like Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR) powered variant for long-range interceptions and the Infrared seeker variant for short-range engagements. Mark 2 variant will be an extended range version of the present Mark 1, along with an enhanced seeker.
The missile also comes with excellent Electronic Counter Counter Measures (ECCM) capability, making it resistant to jamming and highly accurate if launched under designated parameters.
“Once the flight trials on Tejas are completed, large-scale orders will follow,” said a source of Times of India. Defense PSU Bharat Dynamics is committed to producing the missiles at a unit cost of about Rs 1.1 million.
Astra will enhance the BVR engagement of LCA Tejas to great extent. One squadron of the aircraft is already deployed in the west, facing Pakistan. An order for 83 Tejas Mk1A is also pending but expected to be signed by the end of this year. The Indian Air Force and the government also believe that Astra is a “necessity” and the combat fleet requires such kind of weaponary to match the adversaries.
The arrival of Dassault Rafale F3R also brought MBDA Meteor missiles with medium to long-range interception capability. However, depending on one missile and 2 squadrons of a particular aircraft may not be a good strategy to tackle the challenges in the region.