India on May 4, 2014 successfully test-fired its first indigenously developed beyond visual range (BVR) Astra missile from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet, joining a select group of countries such as the US, France, Russia and Israel that developed this capability. The term beyond-visual-range missile (BVR) usually refers to an air-to-air missile that is capable of engaging at ranges of 20 nmi (37 km) or beyond.
Astra has been designed and developed indigenously by the DRDO. The 60-km plus range missile possesses high Single Shot Kill Probability (SSKP) making it highly reliable. Astra’s project director, S. Venugopal said the missile was comparable with the best in the world. He said the Mk-II variant of Astra with a range of 100 km is planned to be tested by this year end.
In its maiden flight test, Astra was not fired against any target, which would be tested subsequently. It can arm all four of India’s current generation fighters – the Su-30MKI, MiG-29, Mirage 2000 and the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.
Astra is an all-weather missile with active radar terminal guidance, excellent ECM (electronic counter-measure) features, rocket/ramjet propulsion and improved effectiveness in a multi-target scenario making it a highly advanced, state-of the-art missile capable of destroying highly-agile supersonic fighters.
At 15 km from the target, the Astra’s on-board seeker picks up the target and homes in on it. Reaching near the target, a radio proximity fuse detonates the Astra warhead metres from the target, shooting it down. However the key component of the Astra missile – the seeker head – remain imported. A seeker is being developed, but will take a decade to be usable.
The project was first sanctioned in March 2004 at an initial cost of Rs 955 crore. After decade long of development saga, DRDO is now confident it will be able to meet the revised project completion date of December 2016.