India’s first indigenously developed beyond visual range air‐to‐air missile (BVRAAM) Astra was successfully test fired by the Indian Air Force (IAF) on 4 May from a naval range in the western sector, meeting all the mission objectives. The air‐launch was captured by side- and forward-looking high-speed cameras and the separation was exactly as per the simulation.
Astra is India’s first BVRAAM indigenously designed and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), possessing high Single Shot Kill Probability (SSKP), making it a reliable missile. It is an all-aspect, all-weather missile with active radar terminal guidance, excellent ECCM features, smokeless propulsion and process improved effectiveness in multi‐target scenario, making it a state‐of the‐art missile.
Scientific advisor to minister of defence, secretary at the department of defence research and development and DG, DRDO, Avinash Chander, congratulating the team for their high competence and tenacity to make such an event happen seamlessly, said, “Astra’s successful launch from the Su30 combat aircraft is a major step in missile aircraft integration. Extensive flight testing that has preceded today’s air launch was indeed a joint effort of DRDO and IAF. This will be followed by launch against actual target shortly. Many more trials are planned and will be conducted to clear the launch envelope. Weapon integration with Tejas light combat aircraft will also be done in the near future.”
VG Sekaran, director general of the Missiles and Strategic Systems (MSS), who chaired the Flight Readiness Review Committee along with S Som, director of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), P Venugopalan, former director of DRDL, among others, said, “This is one of the proud moments for DRDO and the entire country.”
K Tamilmani, director general (aeronautics), who overlooked the entire flight safety in the programme, said that quality of integration and performance of Astra meets high standards and there was no doubt in the success of the launch. He further added that this was the beginning of the phase for demonstration of launch over a wide air‐launch envelope.
Project director S Venugopal said, “The air launch of Astra was perfect in all respects; it is a culmination of years of effort by a very dedicated and competent team of the Missile Complex, Hyderabad, CEMILAC and IAF. The HAL carried out the modification in Su‐30 along with IAF specialists, and many Indian industries have an important and enabling role in the production of reliable avionics, propulsion system, materials, airframe and software passing stringent airworthiness requirements for the missile.”
The missiles have undergone rigorous testing on Su30 in the captive mode for avionics integration and seeker evaluation in 2013. The project has thus reached the final stage of testing and evaluation, and the Mk‐II variant with higher range capability is also planned to be tested by the end of 2014.
The performance characteristics of the missile are similar to the R-77RVV-AE (AA-12) and Super 530D, both currently used by the IAF. It is 3.8 metres long and is narrower in front of the wings. The propellant used is HTPB (solid-fuel). The warhead is a 15 kg HE (high-explosive) which is activated by a proximity fuse. The missile’s maximum speed is Mach 4 and can attain maximum altitude of 20 km. The missile can handle 40 g turns near sea level while attacking a manoeuvring target. Astra has ECCM features and has improved effectiveness in multi-target scenarios. It can be launched in both autonomous and buddy mode operation and can achieve lock-on on its target before or after it is launched.
DRDO started developing the BVRAAM to arm the IAF’s Mirage 2000H, MiG-29, Sea Harrier, Su-30MKI, MiG-21 Bison and HAL Tejas fighter aircraft more than a decade ago. The missile uses an indigenous solid fuel propellant. A rocket/ramjet propulsion for improved range and enhanced kinematic performance, similar to that used in the Akash surface-to-air missile, is also being developed.
The missile was successfully tested without control and guidance systems on 9 and 12 May 2003. The missile was again successfully tested on 25 March 2007. On 27 March that year, vertical launch of the missile was carried out, suggesting the use of the missile as a long range surface to air missile for the Indian Navy to arm its destroyers and frigates and for the IAF. The ground testing of the Astra missile was successful. The missile was successfully tested on 13 September 2008.
The testing of the dual-mode guidance was carried out in May 2009. Captive flight trials of Astra missile were carried out in November 2009. On 11 January 2010, the Astra was test-fired in the Chandipur-on-sea area, off the Odisha coast. However, the test wasn’t successful, due to a slight failure in electronic system of the missile.
The missile will be able to intercept target aircraft at supersonic speed. Initially planned to arm Jaguar, MIG-29 and Tejas, the missile can now be integrated with the IAF’s front-line fighter aircraft like Sukhoi-30 MKIs and Mirage-2000s. The programme faced multiple problems for a year owing to control issues and higher than expected rolling moments at high angles of attack. The night trials of the Astra was carried out successfully on 6 June 2010. Another test was carried out on 7 June 2010 under inclement weather conditions. Both were successful.
On 20 May 2011, ballistic flight test of the missile was carried out from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur.”The main purpose of today’s trial is to gauge the performance of the motor, propulsion system and the configurations of the vehicle and aero-dynamics evaluation,” a DRDO scientist had said that day. The missile, after its final trials, would be integrated with the Su-30 MKI.
The new symmetric configuration addressed these concerns and a number of missiles were tested from the ground in 2012 to prove the configuration and engagement envelopes. Two subsystems were re-designed and re-packaged to meet the new system configuration. DRDO hopes to have the production versions of Astra Mk-I & II on the three different fighters by 2016. DRDO has got two Su-30MKI aircraft from the IAF which has come with all modifications. Integration of the aircraft avionics with the missile on-board equipment are being carried out using the Sukhoi test rig at IAF’s Software Development Institute in Bangalore. This will further undergo rigorous checks during the captive flight trials planned in mid-2012 for qualifying the electronic integrity in flight using a metric missile.
Astra was successfully test fired for two consecutive days on 21 and 22 December 2012 at Chandipur, successfully intercepted an electronic target and a Laksya target drone. The missile wasthentest fired from aircraft after three more ground launches. Starting 29 November 2013, DRDL conducted extensive carriage trials of Astra using a Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft in Pune. The carriage trial continued until last week of December. These carriage trials were assessed on a modified Su-30 aircraft involving various parameters with respect to missile’s compatibility with the aircraft in terms of avionics etc.