Astra MkII and SFDR :- India’s next Silver bullets in the air?
After recent Aerial clash with Pakistan, there is a mad rush to procure next-generation air to air missiles from various countries to arm them on front line fighter jets like Su-30MKI, Mig-29 and Mirage-2000 with Western, Indian and Russian developed even though no such urgency has been shown to expedite development of local indigenous programs in the first place.
A successor to Astra Mk1 will be Astra MkII which has been on drawing board for some time but due to the slow pace of development phase which bogged down Mk1 program, it is likely to have shorter developmental trials due to missile system carrying forward many of the systems which have already been developed. IAF and DRDO are yet working out technicalities of Astra MkII program it’s more or less confirmed that it will have longer range and will have additional capabilities making it a vital air-to-air dominance arsenal of IAF in near future.
Astra mk2 will be using dual pulse rocket motor(cheap alternative of ramjet) which will boost it range to 125km if launched from 12km altitude and will gradually increase the NEZ (no escape zone) of the missile. Astra will be the mainstay of Indian airforce and Navy A2A missile arsenal in the future.
Present Astra Mk1 has a non-classified range of 75-80km and proposed Astra Mk2 was convinced as a newer version of the missile system developed to compliment each other. Since Astra Mk2 was supposed to be an Extended Range version of the baseline Astra Mk1 which utilized proven technology derived from the Mk1 program it had additional fuel space for the propulsion system to achieve extended range. Astra Mk1 and Astra Mk2 could have provided a superior war-fighting capability for the Indian air force while working in tandem and as an alternative to the import which now IAF is seeking.
Yet we saw DRDO starting developmental trials of Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR) first than that of MkII? Well, development of the ramjet motor and sustained long-range flight in the air while pulling 30-40gs required deeper research and studies due to high thrust levels provided by the ramjet propulsion which needs to be channeled properly so that it can sustain Mach 4 speed from launch till it hits its target and also enforces a no-escape zone.
Astra Mk-1 program suffered from the inflight performance due to instability at high speeds leading to considerable delays in the program and almost whole missile design had to be redone to fix flight trajectory issues that took years to perfect. Ramjet over conventional motor could have cropped up similar issues but this time DRDO roped in Russia’s Vympel JSC company which had carried out studies a few decades back to mate a ramjet motor on its famous R-77 BVRAAM derivate but couldn’t execute the program for unknown reasons and was happy to help India for technical collaboration in lieu of funding.
Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet tactical Air launched Missile is a new breed of an Air-to-Air missile which India has been jointly developing with good friend Russia. SFDR aka Astra-2 is India’s first at Next generation beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) which will incorporate booster-ram jet sustainer propulsion system, which will propel new missile in the sameclass as MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.
The missile flew in its intended trajectory at a speed of Mach 3 (thrice the speed of sound) and performed as expected perfectly validating the new indigenous technology. “It was a booster phase test of the missile and the mission was a major milestone for the strategic missile
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) which was in charge of developing Astra Mk1 AAM had planned a successor which was still supposed to use a solid propellant which included improvements capability such has increased in excess of 100 km and LOBL (look down shoot/down-look capability ) and LOAL modes of operations with improved two way secure data link system .
With the Indian Air Force operating 600 to 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.