India's indigenous multirole light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas will soon get more teeth with the integration of advanced air-to-air missile Astra, which may encourage the Indian Air Force (IAF) to increase its squadron strength.
The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which successfully integrated Astra on IAF's frontline air-superiority fighter Sukhoi-30MKI (Su-30MKI) will soon begin testing Astra on Tejas, reports say.
Astra is a beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile with a maximum range of 110 km, intended to replace Russian R-73 missiles of 40km range. DRDO and IAF officials are thrilled after jointly completing five successful tests of Astra missile on Su-30MKIs at Chandipur test range off Odisha. Their joy is understandable after 15 years of hard work that went into the development of the state-of-the-art missile from scratch by the DRDO team.
Astra has put India in an elite club of nations successfully integrating such long-range BVRAAMs on fighter jets after the US, Russia, France, and Israel, according to the Economic Times. DRDO expects the IAF to initially order at least 200 missiles for Su-30MKI jets.
Along with the integration of Astra on Tejas fighters, DRDO is working on the next version of Astra with an enhanced 160 km range. "Astra is one of the best BVRAAMs in the world today. We have the capability to develop it for longer ranges," the report quoted DRDO chief Dr G Satheesh Reddy as saying.
The need to fast track the Astra induction program was felt after a skirmish of IAF fighter planes with an intruding formation of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) warplanes on February 27, a day after Indian fighter jets obliterated a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) training camp in Balakot deep inside enemy territory to avenge the Pulwama terror strike a few days back.
Although a highly skilled Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman flying a Soviet-era MiG-21 Bison managed to shoot down a far advanced US-built F-16 with a Russian-built R-73 medium-range air to air missile, his plane itself was hit by an AIM120 AMRAAM (advanced medium-range air to air missile). He managed to eject from the burning aircraft but landed in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK). He was later handed back to India.
The sleek 3.57-meter Astra weighing 154 kg flies at more than four times the speed of sound at Mach 4.5, giving little chance of escape for an enemy aircraft that may attain a maximum of Mach 2.5 even with afterburners.
The missile to be produced by public sector Bharat Dynamics for about Rs 7-8 crore apiece, Astra will be a far cheaper indigenous alternative to expensive Russian, French or Israeli BVRAAMs currently being imported for IAF fighters, the report says.
The missile is capable of handling multi-target scenarios, has state-of-the-art ECCM (electronic counter-countermeasures) to tackle jamming by hostile aircraft. It uses active radar terminal guidance and has accurate endgame algorithms for high single-shot kill probability in both head-on and tail-chase modes, according to the DRDO.
The tests from Su-30MKI targeted high-speed Jet Banshee UAVs simulating all possible threat scenarios. The DRDO is thrilled that the Astra missiles engaged the tiny targets from about 90km away, tracked them in mid-flight and accomplished textbook kills.
The success of Astra is particularly satisfying for DRDO engineers as BVRAAM technology had remained elusive until now, despite success in building giants like the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-range Agni-V.