As reported earlier by Guarding India, the Defence Ministry on 02 Jul 2020, approved weapon deals worth INR 38900 Crores. In the deals that were approved was contract for 248 Astra Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Air-to-Air Missiles for Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy. The importance of this deal cannot be overlooked, and therefore Team Guarding India brings you fantastic story of Astra Missile.
In modern aerial battles, fighter jets are often equipped with so powerful radars that they can see each other while being more than 100 kilometers away. This enables them to fire an air-to-air missile at their target without seeing the enemy fighter jet. This type of battle is called Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat in which survival of fighter will depend upon its capability to “see first and to shoot first”.
Now nearly all modern fighter jets carry powerful radars, the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat has become a shooting game in which side having better missiles is likely to win. Indian Air force has been ordering top notch missile from Europe and Russia while Pakistan has largely relied on US and China.
These missiles came into limelight when on 27 February 2019, immediately after Balakot Surgical Strikes, Pakistani Air Force wanted to attack Indian Army location in Kashmir. On that day, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman flying a MiG-21 Bison fighter jet shot down Pakistani Air Force F-16 Falcon. However, Wing Commander Abhinandan did not had a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile on his MiG-21 Bison, thus he was forced to close in with enemy fighter jet before he could fire R-73 Within Visual Range (WVR) missile that finally shot down the PAF F-16. At this point, second Pakistani F-16 was able to shoot down his plane leading to his capture.
What Wing Commander Abhinandan achieved that day pleased Russians and astonished USA as it was a 1960s Russian plane beating latest US design which is like a Maruti 800 beating brand new Ferrari. Nevertheless, if Wing Commander Abhinandan had a BVR missile he could have still shot down F-16 and would have came back safely. The missile that can do that is Astra Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Air-to-Air Missiles.
Astra is an all-weather BVR missile developed indigenously by DRDO which is also the first air-to-air missile developed in India. Astra is designed to shoot down enemy aircrafts flying 110 kilometers away using highly advance guidance system which features mid-course inertial guidance system with indigenous terminal active radar homing. Astra can reach 110 kilometers in head-on chase mode and 20 kilometers in energy intensive tail chase mode while targeting jets flying at varying range and altitudes. During a user trials in 2019, Astra missile successfully destroyed simulated target flying 90 kilometers away.
Astra missile is a visual treat to watch as unlike most missiles which emit black or white smoke, Astra has pinkish flame which leaves little or no smoke. This feature comes very handy in combat as enemy aircrafts traying to evade Astra missiles will have tough time to spot it before being hit. Astra missile has been extensively tested and was finally approved for initial production in September 2017 with an initial production order of 50 missiles for Indian Air Force. The current order makes it total of 300 Astra missiles which will be manufactured by state owned Bharat Dynamics Limited.
DRDO is planning to transform Astra missile into a family of four different missile like Israeli Python missile which are a family of incrementally developed missiles that are in active service with the air forces of over fifteen countries across the globe.
In addition of present Astra Mk.1 that is ordered into production, DRDO is planning to produce three new Astra variants. Astra Mk.2 is planned to have extended range of 160 kilometers which will rival US AIM-120D which is used by Pakistani F-16. Astra Mk.3 will have an astonishing range of 340 kilometers using under development solid fuel ducted ramjet (SFDR) technology. For close combat, Astra IR with 40 kilometers range is being developed which will use infrared homing.
India Air Force is planning to use Astra as core BVR missile in years to come and it can be fired from Sukhoi Su-30MKIs. In future, Astra will be integrated with HAL Tejas, MiG-29s and Mirage 2000s fighter of Indian Air Force which ensures that it will have a long production run.