Astra is India’s first beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missile indigenously designed and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). It is intended to engage and destroy aerial targets with high manoeuvrability and supersonic speeds. The missile’s advanced air combat capabilities allow it to engage multiple high-performance targets.
The Astra missile will serve the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy. It has been integrated with the IAF’s Su-30MKI fighter jet jointly developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The missile will also be integrated with the Mirage 2000 multi-role combat fighters, Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), and MiG-29 and MiG-21 Bison fighter jet platforms, as well as the Indian Navy’s Sea Harrier jet fighter. The Indian Government already ordered more than 288 Astra Mk-I missiles for the Air Force and the Navy.
Astra air-to-air missile design and features
The highly agile, accurate and reliable missile features high single-shot kill probability (SSKP) and is capable of operating under all weather conditions.
Length of the weapon system is 3.8m, while its diameter is 178mm, and overall launch weight is 160kg. Its low all-up weight provides high launch range capability and the system’s airborne launcher can be used with different fighter aircraft.
The electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) feature improves the missile’s target tracking capability by reducing the effect of electronic countermeasures of the enemy targets in jamming environments.
Development and flight tests of Astra missile
The Astra missile was developed as part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) of the Indian Ministry of Defence. DRDO carried out mission analysis, system design, simulation and post-flight analysis of the weapon system. The MK-I variant of the new air-to-air missile was first tested in May 2003, from the Interim Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur, Odisha, and a series of developmental ground tests, captive flight trails and user associate launches were conducted in varying weather conditions.
DRDO is also developing the Mk-II variant, which will have a higher range of 160km. The Astra Mk-III, a future variant, is being developed by India in collaboration with Russia. It is based on the advanced solid fuel ducted ramjet (SFDR) engine technology that was tested in 2018, 2019 and recently in March 2021.
Captive flight trials were conducted from a Su-30MKI combat aircraft in 2009. Its motor and propulsion system evaluation test flights were conducted in 2010, while ballistic flight tests were held in May 2011.
In December 2012, the missile underwent a series of trails, which included evaluation of new aerodynamic and system configuration, sub-systems function, control guidance algorithm, pre-programmed manoeuvre, handing over of mid-course to terminal homing guidance, seeker and radio proximity fuse performance, endgame algorithm, and other objectives.
DRDO conducted a series of flight tests of the missile from a Su-30 aircraft in the captive mode for the evaluation of avionics integration and seeker performance, in 2013.
DRDO and the IAF jointly conducted a live launch of the Astra BVR missile from a Su-30 MKI combat aircraft in May 2014. The missile successfully demonstrated its control and guidance and aerodynamic characteristics during a test flight from a naval range off Goa in June 2014. The new Indian missile with onboard telemetry equipment was successfully test-fired by a Su-30 MKI aircraft against a Lakshya pilotless target aircraft (PTA) off the coast near the ITR at Chandipur in March 2015. It also demonstrated a turn rate of 30 g in a separate flight, which took place in the same month.
In May 2015, DRDO test-fired the missile twice from a Su-30 MKI aircraft for high g manoeuvres from the ITR in Odisha. The missile’s performance in different engagement scenarios was successfully demonstrated in a test-flight held in the same month.
In September 2018, the Astra air to air missile was test-fired to evaluate its high-precision strike capability against manoeuvring threats at the Kalaikunda Air Force Station in the state of West Bengal. The test was conducted as part of a series of final pre-induction trials.
The BVR missile underwent flight tests with Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft in Chandipur, Odisha in September 2019. The successful trials were executed against Jet Banshee target aircraft simulating all possible threat scenario, demonstrating its end game capability in combat configuration with warhead. The missile also had a direct hit of the target at maximum range.
India is also expected to conduct trials of the Astra Mk-II in the second half of 2021. The extended range missile is anticipated to enter service by the end of 2022.
Guidance and warhead
The dual-mode guidance consists of an upgraded mid-course internal and active radar terminal homing systems. It allows the Astra BVR missile to locate and track targets at different altitudes.
The weapon system is equipped with a high-explosive pre-fragmented warhead that weighs 15kg.
A radio proximity fuse (RPF) developed by HAL activates the warhead. This RPF weighs approximately 2.5kg and has a detection range of up to 30m, a detonation range of 15m and a missile target velocity between 100m/s and 1,600m/s.
Propulsion and performance of Astra missile
The Astra BVR air-to-air missile is powered by a smokeless, single stage, solid fuel propulsion system. It can intercept and destroy enemy targets with a launch speed between Mach 0.4 and Mach 2. Launch range and launch altitudes of the weapon system are 80km and 20km respectively. The missile can achieve 40 g turns near sea level while engaging a moving target.