Astra (Sanskrit: , Astra "Weapon") is an active radar homing beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), India. Astra is designed to be capable of engaging targets at varying range and altitudes allowing for engagement of both short-range targets (up to 20 km) and long-range targets (up to 80 km) using alternative propulsion modes. As of May 2011, the missile is undergoing developmental trials.
The missile guidance is provided by a terminal active radar-seeker and an updated mid-course internal guidance system, which locates and tracks targets. On-board electronic counter-measures jam radar signals from enemy radar, making tracking of the missile difficult. The performance characteristics of the missile are similar to the R-77RVV-AE (AA-12) and Super 530D, both currently used by the IAF. It is 3.8 metres long and is narrower in front of the wings. The propellant used is HTPB (solid-fuel). The warhead is a 15 kg HE (high-explosive) which is activated by a proximity fuse. The missile's maximum speed is Mach 4 and can attain maximum altitude of 20 km. The missile can handle 40 g turns near sea level while attacking a manoeuvring target.
Development and Trials
DRDO started developing the beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) to arm the Indian Air Force's Mirage 2000H, MiG-29, Sea Harrier, Su-30MKI, MiG-21 Bison and HAL Tejas fighter aircraft. The missile uses an indigenous solid fuel propellant. A rocket/ramjet propulsion for improved range and enhanced kinematic performance, similar to that used in the Akash surface-to-air missile, is also being developed.
The missile was successfully tested without control and guidance systems on May 9 to May 12, 2003. The missile was again successfully tested on 25 March 2007. On 27 March, vertical launch of the missile was carried out, suggesting the use of the missile as a long range surface to air missile for the Indian Navy to arm its destroyers and frigates and for the Indian Air Force. The ground testing of the Astra missile was successful. The missile was successfully tested on September 13, 2008.
The testing of the dual-mode guidance was carried out in May 2009. Captive flight trials of Astra missile were carried out in November 2009. On 11 January 2010, the Astra was test-fired in the Chandipur-on-sea area, off the Orissa coast. However, the test wasn't successful, due to a slight failure in electronic system of the missile.
The missile will be able to intercept target aircraft at supersonic speed. Initially planned to arm Jaguar, MIG-29 and indigenous light combat aircraft, Tejas, DRDO officials are now indicating that after user trials, the missile would be integrated with Indian Air Force's front-line fighter aircraft like Sukhoi-30 MKIs and Mirage-2000s. The programme faced multiple problems for a year owing to control issues and higher than expected rolling moments at high angles of attack. The night trials of the Astra was carried out successfully on 6 June 2010. Another test was carried out on 7 June 2010 under inclement weather conditions. Both were successful.
On May 20, 2011, ballistic flight test of the missile was carried out from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur."The main purpose of today's trial is to gauge the performance of the motor, propulsion system and the configurations of the vehicle and aero-dynamics evaluation," said a DRDO scientist. The missile, after its final trials, would be integrated with the Su-30 MKI.
The new symmetric configuration addresses these concerns and a number of missiles will be tested from the ground in 2012 to prove the configuration and engagement envelopes. Two subsystems were also re-designed and re-packaged to meet the new system configuration. DRDO hopes to have the production versions of Astra Mkl-I & II on the three different fighters by 2016. DRDO has got two Su-30MKI aircraft from the IAF which has come with all modifications. Integration of the aircraft avionics with the missile on-board equipment are being carried out using the Sukhoi test rig at IAF's Software Development Institute in Bangalore. This will further undergo rigorous checks during the captive flight trials planned in mid-2012 for qualifying the electronic integrity in flight using a metric missile.
The maximum range of Astra is 110 km in head-on chase and 20 km in tail chase. The missile could be launched from different altitudes - it can cover 110 km when launched from an altitude of 15 km, 44 km when fired from an altitude of eight km and 21 km when the altitude is sea-level . The missile can reportedly undertake 40 g turns close to sea level, when attacking a maneuvering target. It will have an active homing range of 25 km. The missile has a pre-fragmented warhead and is fitted with a proximity fuze. A radar fuse already exists for the Astra, but the DRDO is currently working on a new laser fuse. Astra has on-board ECCM capability allowing it to jam radar signals from an enemy surface-to-air battery, ensuring that the missile is not tracked or shot down. The Mark 2 version of Astra will have a maximum range of 150 km and tail chase range of up to 35 km.
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