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Astra air-to-air missile

India is developing a medium-range air-to-air missile called Astra. India would become the first of the developing countries to develop such a state-of-the-art air-to-air missile. The missile will give IAF fighters an edge in an air battle, as the Pakistan Air Force does not have such a beyond-visual-range [BVR] missile with a "fire-and-forget" capability in its arsenal. India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing this advanced beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) for the Mirage 2000, MIG-29, Sea Harrier, Su-30, and the Light Combat Aircraft [LCA].

The missile will augment the IAF's BVR arsenal, which includes the Matra Super 530D, the AA-10 Alamo-C and the AA-12 Adder. The Astra is intended to have performance characteristics similar to the AA-12 Adder. The Russian-made Adder has a range of 100 km and files at four times the speed of sound. The AA-10 Alamo-C has the longest range of missiles in IAF service, with a range of 130 km.

Astra is said to be configured like a long Matra 530, narrower in front of the wings. Initially designed to use a locally-developed solid fuel propellant, DRDO is also looking at rocket/ramjet propulsion to provide greater range and an enhanced kinematic performance. The missile would be capable of turning at a '40 G-plus rate' with an eventual operational range of over 100 km. The missile was initially said to be 3.8 meters long, and equipped with an active radar-seeker. The Astra will use a mid course internal guidance system to track target aircraft. The missile has an active radar seeker to find targets, and electronic counter measure capabilities that allow the missile to jam radar signals from an enemy surface-to-air battery to ensure that the Astra is not tracked or shot down.

stra Mark-1 missile is a single-stage, solid-propellant missile that is 3.57 meters long and flies at more thanfour times the speed of sound at Mach 4.5. Astra would have a 15 kg warhead with a proximity fuse. The missile has an operational range of 80km in head-to-head mode and 20km range in tail-chase mode [other sources cite a strike range of 25 to 40 km].

The missile uses a terminal active radar-seeker and a mid-course internal guidance system with updates to track targets. The on-board capability allows it to jam radar signals from an enemy's surface-to-air battery, ensuring that the missile is not tracked or shot down. The 3.6-meter long missile [according to a 2008 report] has a launch weight of about 154 kg and uses solid-fuel propellant and a 15 kg high-explosive warhead, activated by a proximity fuse. The missile has a maximum speed of 2.2 Mach and a maximum altitude of 20 km.

Some advanced features that make Astra the first ever BVRAAM developed within Bharat a state-of-the-artweapon system comparable with the best include its long range of over a hundred kilometers and its smokeless propulsion that lets the missile kill its target without giving any clue about the location of the launching aircraft. Astra is an All Aspect, All Weather weapon, hence making it all the more versatile. This enables the missile to be launched irrespective of the relative position of the target with respect to the missile. Astra is equipped with an indigenous RF seeker based active radar terminal guidance system.

Astra also has advanced ECCM (Electronic Counter-Countermeasures) features. In simple terms, it means that th emissile has the capability to overcome defensive measures attempted by the enemy. Further, Astra also has high effectiveness in a multi-target scenario. Another important feature of Astra is the option to choose between Lock on Before Launch LOBL and Lock on After Launch LOAL, the latter allowing the combat aircraft to shoot and scoot to safety after launching the missile in the direction of the target.

The superb maneuverability of Astra is yet another significant factor that will make it a valuable asset. Modern generations of supersonic combat aircraft are capable of carrying out such evasive maneuvers that are limited only by the endurance of pilot and not that of machines. Maneuvers resulting in up to 9G forces (positive, vertical) are common. A missile needs to be far more agile in order to be able to beat such modern combat aircraft. Thus the missile and all its subsystems and components including sensitive sensors and circuits must be able to withstand the forces involved in such maneuvers. Astra has been designed to carry out maneuvers involving forces exceeding 30g. Astra BVRAAM,therefore, offers high overall reliability and a high Single Shot Kill Probability SSKP.

Three air launch trials of beyond visual range air-to-air missile system, Astra were successfully conducted from Su-30 Mk-I aircraft during May-June 2014. Missile control, guidance, long range capability and safe separation of missile from the aircraft have been demonstrated successfully. Indian Air Force [IAF] conducted a user trial on 08 December 2016, where the missile lost velocity after launch, slipped from the trajectory and dropped down. It exploded on the ground with a huge noise and smoke. The IAF test-fired two Astra missiles from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter against an actual, pilot-less target aircraft (PTA) Banshee on 12 December 2016. The testing yielded a "near hit" success for the DefenceResearch Development Organisation (DRDO) and the IAF.

In conflict with claims that India's 40-kilometer-range Astra Mark-1 beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) is indigenous, the Indian Air Force (IAF) says it remained dependent on Russia for the missile's critical technologies. The IAF said the missile's developer, state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), simply cannot produce it fully in-house.

"The missile seeker (main part for guidance) is based on Russian R-77 (AA-12 ADDER "AMRAAMSKI") radar seeker in Astra Mark-1, and the homemade seeker has not been developed," according to a senior IAF official, who spoke in December 2016 on condition ofanonymity. The seeker helps in firing the missile from beyond visual range, tracking and then locking onto the target, the IAF official explained. It also provides the capability to follow its target despite complicated maneuvers, the official added.

"Astra missile is unlikely to be fully indigenous, as critical components like active sensor and proximity fuses would have to be imported as of now," said Daljit Singh, a retired IAF air marshal and defense analyst. However, a DRDO scientist said the "radio frequency seeker is a transfer of technology from Russia, but the other subassembly is indigenous."

"After the latest tests (Dec.11-13, 2016), Astra Mark-1 missile will get into induction stage in another six to eight months," according to the DRDO scientist. But the IAF official said the service may not induct the Astra Mark-1 missile because it's unsure if it will even be proven in the field. The IAF was pushing for a longer-range BVRAAM. "IAF has already told Ministry of Defence that it will mount only an upgraded version of Astra missiles on Light Combat Aircraft-series fighters," the IAF official noted.

The final Development Flight Trials of Astra - Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missile (BVRAAM) were successfully conducted over the Bay of Bengal, Off the Coast of Chandipur, Odisha during 11-14 Sep 2017. A total of seven trials were conducted against Pilotless Target Aircrafts (PTA) successfully.

The missions included engagement of target at very long range, engagement of high manoeuvring target at medium range and multiple launches of missiles in salvo to engage multiple targets. All the sub-systems including the indigenous RF Seeker performed accurately, meeting all the mission parameters and objectives. Two missiles were also launched in the combat configuration with warhead and the targets were neutralized.

This effort for building a state-of-the-art BVRAAM by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), together with Indian Air Force (IAF) has completed the development phase of the weapon system successfully. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has played a role in modifying the aircraft for weapon integration. More than 50 public and private industries have contributed in building the Astra weapon system. Dr S. Venugopal, Programme Director led the launch operations and flight trials along with the teams from multiple organisations.

Astra is planned to be operated from various present and future generation combat aircraft including the LCA Tejas. Such missiles are the fangs of the combat aircraft duringa dogfight. They form the most potent weapon systems for such aircraft in modern aerial warfare and are needed in large numbers by any Air Force. IAF being among the worlds top five Air Forces, the domestic market itself is gigantic, offering mega business opportunities to the participating industries besides the potential for exploring exports globally. The fifty or so industries that include many Medium Small and Micro Enterprises MSMEs, contributing todevelopment and production of Astra will need to gear up to the challenge of meeting requirements in terms of quantities and quality.

DRDO has already begun work on the Mark-2 version of the Astra missile with a range of up to 100 kilometers, similar to the French Meteor BVRAAM, the DRDO scientist said. "With China having tested a very-long-range air-to-air missile early this year and Astra Mark-2 missile remaining the main requirement of IAF, which is still in initial stages of development, India will need to import advanced BVRAAM soon," another IAF official said.




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