November 6, 2015

10 years in making, Astra advanced air combat missile may be ready in 2016

The missile's "muscle-power", in terms of range, has already been successfully tested nine times from Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets since last year. The "brains" will be tested next month. When the brains and brawn are tested together by mid-2016, India will finally be able to brandish its own Astra air-to-air missile.India may have developed surface-to-surface nuclear missiles like the Agni-V, which can strike targets over 5,000-km away, but has struggled to develop a complex BVR (beyond visual range) air combat missile like Astra for over a decade now.
Once the all-weather Astra is ready, India will join a handful of countries like the US, Russia, France and Israel which have developed such sleek missiles capable of detecting, tracking and destroying highly-agile hostile supersonic fighters packed with "counter-measures'' at long ranges. Indian fighters are currently armed with Russian, French and Israeli BVR missiles, which cost a packet in the absence of a cheaper indigenous alternative."The Astra missile, with a range from 44 to 60km, is coming up very well.
 I am confident it will be able to meet the revised project completion date of December 2016," said DRDO chief Dr S Christopher, talking to TOI on Thursday.Since then, the 3.8-metre long missile, which flies at a speed of over four times the speed of sound at Mach 4.5, has been successfully fired with "pre-fed, fixed target coordinates" nine times. Next month, the "captive trials" will begin to complete the "electronic loop" or prove the missile's brains with "target lock-on and destroy" capabilities.

For this, the missile will be armed with terminal radio-frequency seekers but without any warheads or propellants. The subsequent stage will see the missile being fired in "full configuration" at "actual manoeuvring targets" mimicking enemy fighters by mid-2016.

DRDO says Astra has "excellent" ECCM (electronic counter-counter measures) to tackle jamming by hostile aircraft, active radar terminal guidance and other features for "high single-shot kill probability" in both head-on and tail-chase" mode. The IAF is keeping its fingers crossed.


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