India on Sunday finally tested its first indigenous air-to-air missile 'Astra' from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet, marking a significant turning point in the decade-long tortuous developmental saga of the complex beyond visual range (BVR) weapon.
The test-firing of the sleek BVR missile over the Arabian Sea off Goa is the first concrete step after several false starts and technical glitches like a defective aerodynamic configuration since the project was first sanctioned in March 2004 at an initial cost of Rs 955 crore.
Astra will now have to undergo a battery of full-scale trials covering the entire flight envelope, especially against "actual manoeuvring targets" mimicking enemy aircraft, before it can arm IAF fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs, MiG-29s and the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft.
DRDO, however, is now confident it will be able to meet the revised project completion date of December 2016. Astra is to initially have a 44-km range with "high single-shot kill probability", while its Mark-II version will be able to hit enemy aircraft over 100 km away.
"Astra's successful launch from the Sukhoi-30MKI is a major step in missile-aircraft integration. This will be followed by missile launch against an actual target shortly. Many more trials are planned and will be conducted to clear the launch envelope. Weapon integration with Tejas will also be done in the near future," said DRDO chief Avinash Chander.
India is also slated to begin testing the 290-km supersonic BrahMos cruise missile from the heavy-duty Sukhoi-30MKIs by the end of this year, as earlier reported by TOI. So, while Astra is designed to take care of enemy aircraft, BrahMos will give surgical land-strike capability against hostile targets.
The importance of having an indigenous air-to-air BVR missile cannot be over-stated with IAF jets currently armed with very expensive Russian, French and Israeli missiles. With "target lock-on" capabilities both before and after launch, "excellent" ECCM (electronic counter-counter measures), active radar terminal guidance, smokeless propulsion and "process improved effectiveness in multi-target scenarios", DRDO says the all-weather Astra will fit the bill for advanced air combat.
Only a few countries like the US, Russia, France and Israel have managed to develop BVR missiles till now. Equipped with rocket/ramjet propulsion, micro-computers, active radar guidance/inertial navigation systems, terminal radar frequency seekers and the like, such missiles have to destroy highly-agile supersonic fighters packed with "counter-measures'' at long ranges.
"All Astra systems except the RF seeker are made in the country. The seeker too will be produced in India under a transfer of technology programme. Once fully operational, Astra will be much cheaper than contemporary BVR missiles," said an official. - Times of india