Millennium Post

Astra missile all set for testing

Astra, the beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) made by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is ready for testing from a flying platform. Called the ‘drop and release’ test, the experiment is scheduled for next week or if later, by the first week of April. A Su-30 MKI is ready to carry the missile as a hard point below wings and ‘drop and release’ in mid-air.

While the original range of the missile is 45 kilometres, it can be extended up to 70 kms on platforms like the Su-30, MiG-29 and the light combat aircraft, Tejas. Sources in DRDO say that the two classes of the missile and its leaner look (smaller diametre) make it a world-class missile.

Two pairs of the missile will be attached to the two wings of the designated aircrafts and be ready for BVR firing, after target acquisition. Earlier, tests from static platforms have been successfully undertaken at the Interim Test Range in Balasore with Lakshya, the pilotless target aircraft.

If the Su-30 MKI test proves to be successful, the country will join a select club of countries like the USA, Russia, France and Israel to have its own BVR air-to-air missile.

The Astra has a warhead of a 15-kg high explosive. Speed of the missile when fired in the air-to-air mode is Mach 4 – four times the speed of sound in atmosphere. It can beat electronic counter-measures and even take steep turns under high gravitational pulls, while homing into a manouvring target.

Initially, at the development stage the missile was reputed to be a bit heavier and wider. But DRDO has been able to significantly reduce its weight and girth to make it a radar homing weapon.

At the moment the IAF is having to procure BVRAAMs from Russia, France and Israel. An indigenously built Astra, a DRDO source said, will go a long way in making the IAF and the Indian Navy ‘self-sufficient’ in terms of air-to-air combat.

Originally conceived in the early 2000s, the Astra missile is now being integrated with the avionics of the Su-30MKI to make it ready for the test launch next week and early April.

Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

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