The indigenously built air-to-air beyond-visual-range missile Astra (Sanskrit for arrow), that was flight-tested as part of a user trial from a Sukhoi-30MKI (Su-30MKI) warplane on Monday, has made the multirole fighter a formidable spearhead in Balakot-like strikes deep inside enemy territory.
Astra is intended to replace Russian R-73 medium-range air-to-air missiles that the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighters currently use and Pakistan has reason to worry with the formidable deployment of two state-of-the-art missiles on the frontline Su-30MKI air superiority fighter jets.
The Astra missile, which can hit targets beyond the visual range (BVR) of 60km, was fired from the IAF's frontline Su-30MKI warplane over the Bay of Bengal off Odisha coast. The missile, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has inertial guidance with terminal active radar-homing capability.
It tracked a live airborne target and made a textbook hit, according to an IAF tweet. The 154 kg missile travelling at 4.5 times the speed of sound (Mach 4.5) obliterated the target with a precision hit of its 15kg high-energy fragmented warhead. The missile is useful in close-range beyond 20 km also. After its integration with Su-30MKI's, the missile will be deployed on Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 fighters.
Congratulations !!! Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter aircraft of Indian Air Force successfully test-fired the indigenous Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Astra missile with a range of over 70 kilometers, 16 Sep 19.https://t.co/SFA6DqKGZO pic.twitter.com/UKDdCvf2lR— Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) September 17, 2019
Astra is capable of engaging targets of different ranges and altitudes, making it formidable both for long- and short-range combats, an NDTV report said. A Ministry of Defence statement said a "live target was engaged accurately" by the Astra while the "mission profile was executed in a textbook manner". The DRDO has plans to develop a deadlier version of the Astra missile that would have a range of 300km.
In July, the BrahMos Aerospace test-fired the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile with an enhanced range of 500 km from a Su-30MKI, making India the only country operating fighter jets armed with long-range cruise missiles. The supersonic terrain-hugging missile travels at nearly four times the speed of sound and the improved version can target enemy assets as far away as 500 km.
A Su-30MKI that can cruise at up to twice the speed of sound (Mach 2) and armed with both Astra and BrahMos travelling in excess of four times the speed of sound will bring almost all strategic targets on enemy territory within easy reach.
Had the Astra been already in the arsenal, the IAF response to the intrusion by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on February 27, in retaliation for the Balakot raid on terror training camps of Jaish-e-Mohammed, would have been much more decisive, experts say.
The intrepid Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's MiG-21 Bison had to get closer than 40 km to a Pakistani F-15 to fire its R-73 air-to-air missile despite an alert on getting painted by the enemy radar. An Astra missile would have turned the scene on its head with the BVR missile locking on the F-15 long before visual contact, giving him enough time to take it out and turn back instead of getting shot and being forced to land in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (PoK) where he was taken a prisoner.