MiG, Su-30MKI and TEJAS fighters get Mach 4.5 Astra MK-1 BVR AAM
In a significant development for the Indian Air Force, Bharat Dynamics Limited [BDL] has received contracts to deliver Astra Beyond Visual Range [BVR] air-to-air missiles and auxiliary equipment. This decision underpins the country’s strategic goal to decrease reliance on imported weaponry and establish a more robust national defence system.
To quantify the transaction, the contracts are valued at a substantial 29.7 billion rupees, which equates to roughly $357 million. The overarching aim of the arrangement is to accelerate India’s self-sufficiency in armaments and fortify domestic security infrastructure.
In an achievement for the Indian defence industry, BDL has also gained authorization from officials for mass production of the indigenous Astra MK-1 missile, with the first production set to be operational by the end of 2023. This milestone is indicative of substantial progress in India’s missile sector.
Proving their universal applicability, these Astra missiles are now slated to be fitted on Russian Su-30MKI fighter jets following their successful integration and validation on these aircraft during trials. Therefore, the new arrangement anticipates a widespread deployment of these engineered missiles.
The New Astra Version Underway
Reports from multiple Indian media outlets suggest that the performance of missiles tested in Goa, located at an altitude exceeding six thousand meters, has effectively showcased their impressive capabilities.
A subsequent, upgraded model known as the Astra MK-2 is currently under development. This version possesses an extended flight range, with the recent execution of successful static fire tests signalling a step forward in its progression.
The incorporation of the Astra MK-2 into the Indian Air Force’s arsenal is predicted to bolster their combat capacities significantly. Furthermore, this addition is expected to fortify India’s position on the international stage, a prospect met with enthusiasm within the country.
Dassault Rafale, Too
In a move revealed earlier in July, India’s Air Forces have enlisted the services of Dassault Aviation, a prominent French entity, to incorporate indigenously crafted weaponry, such as the Astra BVR missile, into the internationally acclaimed Rafale combat aircraft.
The officials operating within the defense sector have conveyed the Air Force’s intent to merge the capabilities of the Smart Anti Airfield Weapon [SAAW] and the ‘Astra air-to-air’ missile with the Rafale. This unique integration has been on the agenda since the year 2020.
The strategy further encompasses the addition of various homegrown weapons, glide bombs with extensive reach for instance, into the aircraft’s framework. This initiative is perceived by industry savants as potentially creating a lucrative market for Indian weapon systems once they become integral components of the Rafale.
Such systems are already operational within the Su-30MKI combat aircraft and India’s own TEJAS. In its quest for military expansion, India, which currently commands a squadron of 36 Rafale fighter jets, intends to acquire an additional 26 for its naval forces.
To fortify domestic combat solutions and achieve self-sufficiency, the Indian Air Force has taken a proactive step. This includes the indigenization of several procured weapons during the ongoing face-off with China.
The Astra MK-2 missile is reportedly capable of reaching distances of up to 160 km. While specific technical details of this missile remain somewhat elusive, key aspects have been identified.
Foremost is the fact that much like its siblings in the Astra series—namely Astra IR with its 80 km range, Astra MK-1, Astra MK-2, and the anticipated Astra MK-3—Astra MK-2 employs the use of a common ejector launcher system, the ‘Astra Launcher’. Evidence of this was displayed in images released by the IAF following a recent Astra-II test.
Visually, the similarities between the Astra MK-1 and MK-2 are notable, with little to differentiate them at first glance. Delving deeper into their specifications, uniqueness starts to unravel. For instance, the Astra MK-2 missile is furnished with a dual-pulse solid rocket motor to extend its range.
The inclusion of an AESA radar seeker is also anticipated. Further characteristics, deduced from their photographic portrayal, suggest the design of the two largely mirrors each other. The use of a laser proximity fuse is anticipated for increased precision. Additionally, both Astra missiles are equipped with a smokeless propulsion system for a cleaner discharge.