India to Induct Fierce ‘Astra’ by 2016

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New Delhi: Adding teeth to its military and putting a step in its modernization drive, indigenously developed missile ‘Astra’ will be ready by 2016 for induction.

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.

“After the Akash surface-to-air missile, Astra is the next advanced tactical missile to be made fully indigenously. We are also planning to integrate the missile with the Tejas light combat aircraft. The Astra-II will have a range of 100-km,” he added.

The Astra project was sanctioned in March 2004 at an initial cost of Rs 955 crore. But the missile missed several deadlines due to persisting technical glitches, and could actually be fired from a Sukhoi-30MKI for the first time in May last year.

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.

source: Defence News

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