Astra Missile:- A force Multiplier for Indian Airforce

Astra is an active radar homing beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) developed by the De fence Research and Development Organization, India. Astra is designed to be capable of engaging targets at varying range and altitudes allowing for engagement of both short-range targets (up to 20 km) and long-range targets (up to 80 km) using alternative propulsion modes. The Astra is a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile capable of being launched from India’s Sukhoi-30 MKI twin-jet air superiority fighter. The Indian Air Force currently operates roughly 200 total Su-30 MKI, but plans to eventually operate around 270. The Astra is 149 inches in length, making it the most compact missile developed indigenously in India capable of supersonic speeds.

The highly agile, accurate and reliable missile features high single-shot kill probability (SSKP) and is capable of operating under all weather conditions.Length of the weapon system is 3.8m, while its diameter is 178mm, and an overall launch weight is160kg. Its low all-up weight provides high launch range capability and the system’s airborne launcher can be used with different fighter aircraft.The electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) feature improves the missile’s target tracking capability by reducing the effect of electronic countermeasures of the enemy targets in jamming environments.

The Astra BVR air-to-air missile is powered by a smokeless, single stage, solid fuel propulsion system. It can intercept and destroy enemy targets with a launch speed between Mach 0.4 and Mach 2.Launch range and launch altitudes of the weapon system are 80km and 20km respectively. The missile can achieve 40 g turns near sea level while engaging a moving target

MVKV Prasad, director of the Integrated Test Range in the Indian state of Odisha, noted that the “missile was successfully tested to hit a simulated target” in an interview with the Press Trust of India. It’s also  noticed that Astra “was tested to prove the maneuvering capability against a simulated target and also to validate various subsystems.” When fired from an altitude of at least 15,000 meters, the Astra can travel as far as 110 km. At lower altitudes, this range is reduced: it is capable of reaching a range of 44 km when fired from 8,000 meters, and 21 km when fired from sea level, according to the Economic Times. The active homing ability of the Astra is limited to 25 km. Under normal use, the highly maneuverable Astra missile experiences up to 30 g of acceleration force.

The Astra, which has been under development for over a decade, will be continue to undergo testing until it is ready for reliable use by the Indian Air Force. S Venugopal, a project director at the DRDO, notes that while the ”the fourth and fifth air launch of Astra was once again perfect … more tests will follow to prove its repeatability.” A longer range Mark 2 version of the Astra is planned which will increase its total range, including its active homing and tail chase ranges.

The Astra – designated a “beyond visual range air-to-air 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 kilometres per hour.

Fired from a pylon on the wing of a Su-30MKI fighter, the Astra’s smokeless propellant quickly accelerates it to about 4,000 kilometres per hour, as it screams towards its target. The Su-30MKI tracks the target continuously on its radar, and steers the missile towards it over a data link. About 15 kilometres 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 USA, Russia, Europe, China, Israel, South Africa, Japan, Brazil and Taiwan – have mastered the technologies that go into air-to-air missiles. India is now joining that elite group.

Ultimately, a fighter aircraft is only as good in combat as the missiles it carries. An aircraft can close in with an enemy fighter and position itself dominatingly. But, eventually, an air-to-air missile must shoot the enemy down.

The Astra is fired from the Russian Vympel launcher – a rail under a fighter aircraft’s wing from which the missile hangs, and is launched. The Vympel launcher is integrated with all four of India’s current generation fighters — the Su-30MKI, MiG-29, Mirage 2000 and the Tejas – allowing the Astra to be fired from all of them.

Astra components that have been developed indigenously include the missile’s propulsion system, its on-board computer, inertial navigation system, the radio proximity fuze, and data link between aircraft and missile.

Even so, the missile’s seeker head – a key component of most tactical missiles – 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 kilometres away.

According to the defence ministry, the latest Astra tests included engagement of long-range targets, high-manoeuvring target at medium range and launches of missiles in salvo to engage multiple targets. Two missiles were also launched in the combat configuration with warheads.

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.

The Sukhoi-30 MKI, the intended bearer of the Astra, is a crucial asset for the Indian Air Force, particularly for a potential two-front war scenario. With a range of 1,800 km and high maneuverability, the Su-30 MKI is India’s primary aerial superiority and dominance fighter. The Astra, if it performs up to expectations, will give India’s MKI fleet considerable offensive power. The following video, from a previous test, showcases the Astra being launched from an Su-30 MKI:

Features of Astra (BVRAAM) Missile

  • Due to its smokeless engine it’s extremely tough to visually confirm the missiles  trajectory of indigenously designed astra missile.
  • With the help of Active seeker the missile can be used in buddy mode too, which means a Su 30 MKI can launch the Astra from long range and an nearby friendly aircraft can  update the missile to the correct path thanks to its mid-course update.
  • Astra is a fire and forget missile which allows the aircraft to launch the missile from an decent distance from an enemy aircraft and fly back from the hostile zone.
  • Another important feature is the impressive G power the missile can sustain; the missile can sustain 40G’s whereas manned fighters can maneuver only 9G’s.
  • Astra has an impressive flight altitude of around 20 kilometers. (60,000+ feet)
  • Astra is capable of achieving nearly 4.0 mach. Most of the Fighter jets can pull up to 2.5 mach only. The missile can be effective in tail chase mode.
  • Astra is equipped with ECCM suites to outperform aircraft’s countermeasure and radio interference.

There are several plans to indigenous the missile completely by replacing Russian R 77 radar seeker into Indian made one. And the improved Mark II version with an increased range is also under planning. Su 30 MKI, MiG 29, Mirage 2000, Jaguar and Tejas (India’s indigenously developed fighter plane) are to be armed with Astra and also 36 Rafale planes will be equipped with indigenously developed astra missile which can prove to be a force multiplier of Indian Airforce.


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