Intro : Very few technologically advanced countries are capable of realising a sophisticated missile like India’s indigenous Astra which has been described as a formidable weapon system.
The successful test flight of India’s home grown, supersonic beyond the visual range air to air Astra missile from Su-30MKI fighter aircraft on March 19 this year could boost the capability of Indian Air Force (IAF) by a substantial extent to sustain its air superiority under all stages of operation. This is for the first time that the missile—which was integrated on Su-30MKI platform—successfully, demonstrated its critical high manoeuvring capability.
During this exercise carried out from the defence test range at Chandipur in Orissa, the missile successfully intercepted a moving, simulated target at an altitude of two kms. According to sources in Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which designed and developed Astra, meaning weapon in the classical language of Sanskrit, the high maneuverability of this anti-aircraft missile in a low altitude was successfully demonstrated in the flight test. The missile was also subjected to yet another trial when it successfully engaged the Lakshya Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTA).
This missile will augment the capability of the Russian origin Su-30MKI combat aircraft in service with IAF as well as the home grown fourth generation Tejas fighter that would join the squadrons of IAF in a couple of years. Further into the future, it is planned to equip other fighter aircraft used by IAF with Astra missile system.
Astra has a range of 80-km in head on chase mode and 20-km in tail chase mode. An augmented version of the missile designated Astra MKII will have a 150-km range in head on chase mode and 35 km in tail chase mode. DRDO points out that all weather Astra will fit the bill for advanced air combat excellently well. Astra also features a terminal active radar seeker to find targets and midcourse inertial guidance system with updates.
Described as the smallest and most compact missile developed by DRDO, the solid fuel driven 3.8-km long Astra is capable of carrying a warhead in the weight class of 15-kg. The high point of this state of the art missile is that it possess high Shot Kill Probability (SSKP) and features an advanced ECCM (Electronic Counter Counter Measure). Moreover, it is versatile and flexible enough to be launched from different altitudes; when launched from an altitude of 15 km it can attain a height of 110-km. And it can reach a height 44 km when launched from an altitude of eight km.
This active radar homing missile is said to be technologically more advanced than the Agni range of nuclear capable strategic missiles developed as part of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) of DRDO.
According to T Suvarna Raju, Chairman of the Indian aeronautical major, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) which played a key role in integrating the missile into Su-30 MKI combat aircraft, “The Astra launch is an important milestone in enhancing the capability of Su-30MKI aircraft.”
Meanwhile in a related development that could substantially augment the air superiority of IAF, preparations are on for the maiden test of the air launched version of the formidable Indo-Russian supersonic cruise missile Brahmos which is one of the most advanced missile systems in its class. The air launched version of Brahmos will be tested from a modified version of Su-30MKI fighter. As envisaged now, the air launched version of BrahMos which will weigh less than its land attack and naval versions will have a range of 290-km. Everything going as planned, IAF will induct this missile for operational use by 2016. As warfare experts points out, the combat aircraft equipped with air launched BrahMos will be a major trump card against Chinese misadventure along the north eastern frontier. The New Delhi based Brahmos Aerospace is also planning to develop a miniature version of BrahMos in the weight class of 1.5-tonne. For the IAF, the miniature light weight Brahmos implies a beyond the visual range capability that is compatible with combat platforms like Tejas and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), the fifth generation fighter aircraft taken up for development by the Bangalore based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). The successful development of AMCA featuring stealth characteristics and super cruise capability will catapult India into the ranks of technologically advanced countries which have wherewithal to build a state of the art latest genre combat aircraft. Radhakrishna Rao