Astra air-to-air missile to make its first flight - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 18 October 2009

Astra air-to-air missile to make its first flight

Photo 1: A front view of the Astra missile, which will make its maiden "captive trial" flight this month on a Su-30MKI

Photo 2: The current version of the Astra has a range of 44 km. This will be stepped up to 80 km in the Astra Mk II

Photo 3: The ground trial of the Astra in Sept 08, during which key flight and guidance parameters were validated

Ajai Shukla
DRDL, Hyderabad
Business Standard, 19th Oct 09

Veteran fighter pilots lament the end of the dogfight, the evocative name for a twisty, sky-ripping, adrenaline-packed aerial duel, in which the winner gets behind his opponent and shoots him down with a burst of cannon fire.

Today, it is less about flying skill, cold nerve and highly-responsive aircraft; the modern-day dogfighting ace is an airborne video-game expert who uses radar to detect his foe at long ranges, and launch a beyond visual range (BVR) missile even before his victim realises that the engagement has begun.

Just days from now, a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter will take off from an Indian Air Force (IAF) base, an Astra missile fitted on its wing. This will be the first-ever flight of this indigenously developed BVR missile, which the IAF hopes will add punch to its fleet of Sukhoi-30MKI, Mig-29, Mirage-2000 and Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) fighters.

The Astra, built by the Defence R&D Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad, will allow IAF pilots to hit enemy aircraft up to 44 km away, at altitudes up to 20,000 metres. Improving on that will be the Astra Mk II, with a longer range of 80 km.

The Astra incorporates many cutting-edge technologies. Here is how an Astra would take on an enemy fighter: an IAF fighter’s radar picks up the target; the pilot launches an Astra missile. A high-energy propellant quickly boosts the missile to several times the speed of sound. At ranges beyond 15 km, the Astra cannot “see” its target, so the IAF fighter guides the missile, relaying the target’s continually changing position over a secure radio link. Once it is 15 km from the target, the Astra’s onboard seeker picks up the target; after that the Astra homes in on its own.

At this point, the target would start turning and diving to throw off the missile. But the Astra manoeuvres better, and moves much faster, than even the most agile fighters. A radio proximity fuse measures the distance to the target. When the target is within 5 metres, the Astra’s radio proximity fuse detonates its warhead, sending a volley of shrapnel ripping through the enemy fighter.

Most of these technologies have already been proven. The propulsion system, the data link between the aircraft and the Astra, the radio proximity fuse, the onboard computer, the inertial navigation system and other key technologies were developed at the DRDO’s missile complex in Hyderabad.

The Astra’s seeker is still imported from Russia, but the DRDO hopes to develop one.

The forthcoming test with a Sukhoi-30MKI is called a “captive flight trial”; it will evaluate whether the Astra can withstand the physical stresses of supersonic flying and high-speed manoeuvring. Early in 2010, a “captive-II flight trial” will check whether the Astra’s avionics are properly matched with those of the Sukhoi-30MKI. The fighter should receive the missile’s signals; and the Astra should receive the aircraft’s commands.

“Matching an Indian missile with a Russian fighter’s avionics has turned out to be a complex task”, explains Mukesh Chand, one of the Astra’s key developers, “But the Astra will be much better integrated with the Indian Tejas LCA.”

Only in October 2010, after all the Astra’s systems are certified airworthy, will a live Astra be fired from a fighter. But the project scientists are confident; in a September 2008 test in Balasore, Orissa, a ground-launched Astra shot down an electronic target, validating many of the most complex technologies.

A drawback in the Astra remains its high weight; even a heavy fighter like the Sukhoi-30MKI cannot carry the missile on its wingtip stations. In comparison with the Astra’s estimated 150 kg, other BVR missiles like the Israeli Derby weigh around 100 kg only.

Nevertheless, the IAF believes the Astra will usefully supplement India’s inventory of BVR missiles. The Russian R-77 Adder, which arms India’s Russian aircraft fleet, faces worrying questions about its reliability. And the R530D missile, carried by the Mirage-2000, is nearing obsolescence.


  1. This news disappointed me massively.
    I was on High thinking that the initial head on range will be 80km and tail chase will end up with 100km.
    But seems like things are not really going well with in DRDO.

    They better realise the product and then realise the BS.

    They first let the cat out of the bag saying the BS ranges and now ???????

  2. From the fin position, the terminal phase does not have as much control as the python. In th python, look how close the fin is to the nose. The fin can steer the whole remaining missile right to the end.

    Maybe this one has a bigger warhead, hence the large seperation distance between nose and fins.

  3. Good report on the Astra. Shiv, the Derby is 118kg but gives only 50 km range. So there cannot be any comparison with the Astra which can give 80Kms.

  4. Ajaiji, the missile in the first photograph has a shining metallic nose cap. Is this a chromium plating? I remember an article some time back of an IISc professor having developed a technique for extending the range of ballistic missiles by chrome tipping the nose cones. As the speed and consequently air drag increases, the chrome coating evaporates due to frictional heat and somehow dramatically reduces air drag, thus increasing range.

    Has the same technique been used on this missile also?

  5. Indian said...

    This news disappointed me massively.
    I was on High thinking that the initial head on range will be 80km and tail chase will end up with 100km.

    tail chase range larger than head-on range ! are you out of your mind ??

    ajai, good article as usual !

    Now, I'm sure the ranges quoted were much higher in the earlier stages of the program. what happened that reduced the range so much ?
    secondly, any details on the seeker would be much appreciated, both the russian one (is it from agat ?) and the DRDO project. any date given for completion ? will it have home-on jam capability ?

    lastly, has the datalink been tested ? is it an indigenous design ?

  6. Hi Ajai,

    You mentioned reliability problems with the R-77 missile. Please could you give us some details.

  7. @Indian
    How can a BVR missile have a head on range of 80KM and tail chase range of 100KM? Learn some basic English grammar and type before you abuse your keyboard.

    Astra is still not in the league of the AIM-120C but DRDO is getting there. I hope that IAF and MoD keep on supporting this missile and develop it into a fearsome weapon of destruction. It is high time that India stopped importing everything and Indians stop posting bullshit about their indigenous systems. Indians can do better than that.

    Go DRDO!
    Go Astra!

  8. Considering that the number of MKIs with IAF is likely to be more and the number of Tejas fewer, they better focus on integrating Astra well with Su-30MKIs too.

    Once all the testing is done, they could create Astra-MKI, Astra-Tejas and Astra-MMRCA variants depending on which plane it was integrated better with.

  9. Ajaiji, very informative article. But two questions.

    1. According to various sources and Aero India info the Astra has a range of 80 km and the Astra-II will have a range of 120 km+. Why it is 44 km now?

    2. Astra has a longer range than Derby hence more weight. Why SU-30MKI cannot carry a 150 kg missile? If it can carry 175 kg R-77, 250 kg R-27?

  10. Ajai, please check the range. Earlier reports suggested that the range varies with height and the 44km range may be at lower level. Also there was report of Astra-II with 120 Km or so.

  11. Indeed, once the AA missile is developed, better version with modifications can be built like Astra-II, Astra MKI with thurst vectoring and ramjet tech etc. Until then it's better to have our own missiles that we can mass produce without fear of sanctions and restrictions.

  12. will allow IAF pilots to hit enemy aircraft up to 44 km away, at altitudes up to 20,000 metres. Improving on that will be the Astra Mk II, with a longer range of 80 km

    Hmm... but it is already heavy at 150 Kg, how will it increase the range???

    BBut the Astra manoeuvres better, and moves much faster, than even the most agile fighters

    Are you saying Astra will even beat MKI?? Sacrilage!!!

    The Russian R-77 Adder, which arms India’s Russian aircraft fleet, faces worrying questions about its reliability

    This is worrying, if Pilots dopn't trust their missile, then aircraft is useless, even MKI is just metal junk.

    Finally, Astra is nothing but imitation of Super matra, like before akash SAM. HOPE IT DOES NOT END LIKE ONE.

  13. oh my goodness, a semi-active AAM is this day and age? what's next, throwing hand grenades out of the cockpit during machine gun runs?

  14. >>Hi Ajai,

    You mentioned reliability problems with the R-77 missile. Please could you give us some details.

    Rafale, Russian equipment all have reliability issues. Why act surprised?

  15. anonymous 07:38:

    What do you mean "can steer the whole remaining missile right to the end". Is the Python a multi-stage missile which jettisons stages??

    ArjunTankFan, don't let your imagination run away with you. The nose cone of a ballistic missile sacrifices itself because it is re-entering at 12 Mach plus. An A2A missile does not exceed Mach 4.

    If something had to be sacrificed, the first to go would be the seeker! Not a clever plan.

    Anonymous 08:56:

    The datalink has been tested in Sept 08. Doesn't the article say so?

    Rafale, the problems with the R-77 have been reported in the Indian media.

    Truth for India, I am not responsible for other people's reports. I stand by the ranges that I mention.

    Please read the article again. Where does it say that a Su-30 cannot carry a 150 kg missile? The whole point of the article is that a Su-30 will be flight testing the missile!

    You do realise, don't you, the difference between carrying a missile and carrying a missile on wingtip stations????

    Anonymous 14:08:

    Range is increased without increasing overall weight by decreasing the weight on onboard systems like computer, gyro, seekers etc, and by using better propellants.

    Sorry, but your MKI will be blown out of the sky by the Astra. The latter travels at Mach 4 and manoeuvres at 12G.

  16. Ajaiji

    Good article.
    Just a nit pick though, It seems tht 44km is low-altitude launch range(as per info based on AI-09 release).Can u confirm This?If so please give Altitude-range break-up for varius altitudes if possible.

  17. Without going into details, i must thank you 'Ajay' sir million times for bringing information and updating peoples like me on ongoing indigenous weapon developing programs.

    Thanks again.

  18. Anonymous 14:08:

    Range is increased without increasing overall weight by decreasing the weight on onboard systems like computer, gyro, seekers etc, and by using better propellants.

    Sorry, but your MKI will be blown out of the sky by the Astra. The latter travels at Mach 4 and manoeuvres at 12G.

    I have my doubt regarding increasing the range to 80 km and decreasing the weight at the same time. Not unless DRDO chance upon viman vignana!!

    12G Missile design at this age?? That is what happen when you take a old design(matra) as reference. Shame DRDO.

  19. Mr. Shukla, an excellent piece.

    Must also point out that 44km is the low-altitude engagement range as per the official brochures.

    Nonetheless an excellent piece.

  20. dear idiot vincent, it is NOT semi-active. kindly learn some english and stop trolling.

    (ajai, why do we have to tolerate these clownish posts ? how can such an ill-informed comment pass your filter ?)

  21. Guys especially Indian, use your brains before whining and complaining like kids.

    SBM is absolutely right.

    The ranges mentioned by DRDO are for the powered section of the flight (Max range is actually greater), and for targets at low alt. The 44 km range of the Astra is very respectable. Compare to the RVV-AE (R-77) ranges at 5-10 Km from the OEM.

    DRDO has done right by mentioning a proper, tactically relevant range rather than the max. possible under theoretical conditions.

    Anonymous@14:08, aka Buraidiah from Pak, shouldnt you be worrying about the PAF instead? Because the MKI wont be facing the Astra but the JF-17 will be. And the Astra is no copy of the Super-530 D, nor was Akash, so much for your claims.

  22. Anon@18:24

    The missile does not maneuver at 12G, it can target aircraft which are conducting sustained manoeuvers at upto 12G. Check how many G's a missile pulls each time its target pulls a G. Second, if you want to verify what I said, try talking to anyone from DRDL - my comments are from the horse's mouth in August last year.


  23. hoo god... though we are trying for ambitious products... every where we are having one problem overweight... i know rocket size is tough but this problem in every products of ours is making me sick...

  24. I suspect the fig of 44km comes from the surface to air test of the Astra that have been conducted thus far. The missile will obviously have a shorter range when flying against gravity.
    Nevertheless I don't understand how Astra will be more reliable when it reportedly uses the seeker of R77.

  25. Ajai, you're right that the Astra is a little heavier, when you compare it to other BVR missiles with similar ranges like the MICA, which weighs around 112 kgs. the R-77 has a longer range, but its heavier, weighing around 180 kgs. the AMRAAM C-7 weighs around 160 kgs, though it too has a longer range. and even if the Astra cannot be carried on the wingtip pylon, it hardly makes that big a difference to the Su-30MKI, which has a lot of other pylons that can be used, or to the LCA, which can carry the R-73 on its outermost pylons and can carry the Astra on its mid-pylons.
    Anyway, this is a big step forward. considering how expensive imported BVR missiles are, DRDO really needs to be looking into newer variants of the Astra, like one with an IR seeker ala MICA IR, and probably a new generation dog-fight missile as well, although it'll be hard to beat the Python V, and the new generation of European dogfight missiles like the IRIS-T. South Africa's A-Darter is reputedly able to pull 60-70 gs and it would be nearly impossible to dodge such a missile. as for the retard Vincent, the Astr a is not semi-active. all active BVR missiles need to be guided upto a certain distance before their onboard seekers acquire their target. don't tell me that you're foolish enough to believe than an AMRAAM can acquire its target with its onboard radar at distances at which its fighter platform radar does, which could be as high as 80-90 kms..

  26. Ajaiji,

    My points were.....

    1) It was the DRDO brochure that mentioned Astra as a 80 km range missile. The same missile that is in your second picture of Astra.

    2) Most of the fighter aircraft including SU-30MKI do not carry BVR missile on the wingtip.


  27. There are a few things to remember with missiles.
    1. Contrary to popular beliefs, most modern LR AA missiles have a loft flight path. Meaning, its more like a shallow parabolic path like a projectile. This is the only way, it can achieve the long ranges required with least weight ie. max efficiency.
    2. Published ranges of AA missiles are more a marketing gimmick. Actual ranges vary with all conditions (launch vehicle speed, altitude, target vehicle range, target vehicle speed, manouevering, datalink corrections, etc etc)
    3. 12g manouevering seems a bit low compared to competitors. But then this is the first iteration. In future, better materials like composites and better electronics can result in improved capabilities.
    4. Nothing wrong with Semi-active AA missiles, as long as the terminal homing are totally independent of the launh vehicles.

    Would be grateful if i get some good answers for the following:
    1. I wonder is Astra has a throttlable rocket motor?
    2. Also is the warhead directional as well?
    3. Sometime ago i remember reading an interesting development by DRDO on active phased array radar for missiles. I wonder is Astra uses this radar.

  28. 12G is really pathetic. According to studies, you need around 40G to close the turn in a chase tail with a target that is doing a 9G turn. It would be simple for a target to send the Astra in the wrong direction by jinking and deploying chaff, whereupon its short range and semi-active radar means it'll never recover.

    The Amraam for example now has a top speed of above Mach 4, has 60 G tolerance, over 100 km range and is fully active unlike the Astra. It can also be fired from trucks (slamraam), fired from stealth plane bays (with modified fins) and can now be used as an generic anti-SAM missile fired from another fighter due to multi-spectral sensors.

    the Worst thing is that the Pakistanis just bought 500 of them. Prepare to be slam-rammed.

    As usual, a case of India so far behind that other poeple are lapping them from behind and India look in front, waddling in tight pants.

    Astra, yesterday's technology, for tomorrow.

  29. Everything's so slooooooww in India.

    Now the missile is ready, but another 1.5 years to get it to work with the MKI?

    Come on guys... what were you doing so long? Shouldn't you have been working on this in parallel?

  30. Col. Shukla,

    Do you have close-ups of the two posters in the background of the middle image?

  31. @ Anon at 18:24,
    "12G Missile design at this age?? That is what happen when you take a old design(matra) as reference. Shame DRDO."

    What did you expect? A Meteor in the first attempt!

  32. Anon@18:24

    The missile does not maneuver at 12G, it can target aircraft which are conducting sustained manoeuvers at upto 12G

    Smarty, can you name a aircraft which maneuvers at sustained 12G?

    Let me tell you that aircraft will be metal junk without any missile's help. Your horse mouth DRDL guy is nothing but a BS, to be polite.

    South Africa's A-Darter is reputedly able to pull 60-70G and it would be nearly impossible to dodge such a missile

    IT IS >90G

    And those who are hiding behind "Published ranges of AA missiles are more a marketing gimmick", it should be noted Ajai not only given range but at also altitude. So we can not say 20000 feet is ground level, can we???

  33. Anon @11:25 -
    Are you kidding-at 20,000 feet i.e @ 6.096 km. altitude a missile faces much resistance from air than 15 km. altitude which is the basis of all published ranges of all marketing AAMs.
    And to all who compare Astra with AAMs of advanced countries-You cann't compare DRDO with private defence firms of advanced countries where they manage experts of various fields from all over the world, which we cann't get & we are not a non-democratic country where all resources are used for military products.

  34. I have a couple of questions

    1) how does one practice dodging these super maneuverable missiles

    2) if these missiles have that high amount of capability and thier cost is cheap, then in air defence and superiority role, why cant one just assimilate 5000 odd missiles and knock off all aircrafts out of sky. What i mean here developing a plane should be of equal or lower priority then developing these missiles

    3) continuing with the above logic the entire focus of the country should be building volume for airplanes. As however expensive the equipment it will get knocked of by a barrage of 10 of these super missiles if not 1

  35. Sarang,

    This blog is not a tuition class for military nitwits. If you want to learn methods of missile aviation, get Googling. Or even better, read a good book on missile technology.

    Your plan to assemble 5000 missiles in lieu of an air force is truly brilliant! Why don't you write a book, expanding your thesis. You could save the world hundreds of billions of dollars in fruitless aerospace expenditure.

    In order to safeguard your valuable Intellectual Property for the book that you will hopefully write, I will delete all posts from you on this particular subject hereafter.


  36. Why can't BVR missiles be launched from Aerostat type balloons or to freely flying automated balloons datalinked to ground radars or ground controls?

    If F-18 can get away with pathetic agility saying that days of dogfight are over and BVR is in then what's wrong with an unmanned balloon? You don't lose any pilots and it's cheap!

    And before anyone cracks down, I am not suggesting them as a replacement for fighter squadron. These armed balloons are just additional to fighter plane squadrons.

    And SAMs being ground based have to travel much longer distance giving enough warning & reaction time to enemy aircraft. Hypoteneuse(square root of altitude^2 and enemy aircraft distance^2) is always longer than the side(horizontal enemy distance). AAMs launched from balloons have greater depth into enemy's airspace than a SAM

    Imagine a whole border lined up with tethered balloons or freely patrolling unmanned balloons equipped with BVR. Patrolling costs will come down drastically with balloons patrolling. Besides they can be stealthy too despite their size due to non-metallic construction with some polymers.

    Playing numbers game with unmanned balloons or unmanned planes equipped with BVRs is a lot cheaper.

  37. Hi Ajai

    I dint think what I wrote was a big deal, sorry if it offended you
    My only piece of question is if missiles can be so capable and multitude of which should be able to knock of an aircraft
    Shouldnt the fcous be on building loads of missiles and a platform which is say an unmanned platform which can take down the expensive planes in air
    I have a googled a bit on this not much though
    You can delete or not publish this as u wish

  38. Isn't dis way too much info for the public domain....?? With all due respect, Mr. Ajay, i hope you stop pilfering out India's military capabilities to all and sundry on the World Wide Web... the information contained in your articles clearly comes under the 'classified' category... hope you get my drift, buddy.

  39. This is a fantastic presentation ! it like that, but is it really true.

  40. Hi. I wanted to drop you a quick note to express my thanks. I've been following your blog for a month or so and have picked up a ton of good information as well as enjoyed the way you've structured your site.

  41. Hi, Can you please let me know ehat is head on chase and tail chase.



  42. I must say I am pretty impressed about the range of this missile. I wonder what changes will be made this year.

  43. This is a very interesting missile that is for sure.


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