New Delhi: In keeping with its policy of Atmanirbharta or self-reliance in defence, India which imposed a phased ban on the import of 310 different types of weapons and systems during the last two years is developing two advanced variants of the Astra beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, with one of them capable of striking targets at a range of 160km, when ready, and the other at almost 300km, media reports said quoting top government sources.
The Astra MK-2 and MK-3 missiles are likely to be tested next year and in 2024 respectively, and are among the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) key ongoing programmes, said one of the sources. The current Astra MK-1 variant has a range of around 100 km.
The defence ministry on May 31 signed a Rs 2,971-crore contract with Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) to equip the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy with Astra Mk-1 missiles and associated equipment, which was seen as a shot in the arm for “Atmanirbharta”, or self-reliance, in the defence manufacturing sector. DRDO has transferred technology to BDL for the production of the Astra Mk-1 and associated systems.
“Future air combat will be about detecting and striking targets at the farthest possible range. It will be the outcome of increase in the detection ranges of radars and the advent of longer-range missiles. It is important for India to develop missiles like Astra Mk-2 and Mk-3 to meet IAF’s requirements,” said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd), director general, Centre for Airpower Studies.
China has developed the PL-15 beyond visual range air-to-air missile that can hit targets at around 200 km, while the Meteor with a range of around 160 km is considered the best in its class in the western world, and the new Astra variants will put India in the big league, he added.
The Astra MK-1 missile has been fully integrated with the Sukhoi-30 fighters and will now add to the capabilities of other combat planes including the Tejas light combat aircraft, the officials said. Also, the navy’s MiG-29K fighters, which operate from India’s sole aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, will be equipped with the Astra MK-1 missile.
The domestic industry is likely to receive orders worth Rs 2,10,000 crore in the next five years as a result of the third list, according to the defence ministry’s projections.