Defence Ministry Signs Rs 2,971 Crore Deal With BDL For Astra MK-I
The Defence Ministry has recently signed a contract with defence public sector undertaking Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) for supply of the indigenously developed Astra Mk-I Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air to air missiles and associated equipment for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Navy at a cost of ₹2,971 Crore. The missile’s induction will cater to ‘beyond visual range’ (BVR) as well as close combat engagement capability of the forces along with reducing dependence on foreign sources. The project is set to be executed in 6 years. At present, India imports similar missiles from Israel, Russia and some other manufacturers.
Astra Mk1, a beyond visual range (BVR), air-to-air missile, has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured by Hyderabad-based Bharat Dynamics Limited. The 100-km range Astra Mk-1 was tested for the first time in May 2003. Since then, it been test-fired multiple times and integrated with Su-30 MKI fighters. The missile will also be integrated with Tejas Mark-1A and upgraded MiG-29s over the next few years. The project essentially embodies the spirit of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and will help facilitate realising our country’s journey towards self-reliance in Air to Air Missiles.
The Astra project was officially launched in the early 2000s, and the development of the Mk-1 version was complete around 2017. More than 50 private and public industries, including the IAF and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), have contributed in building the Astra systems. BVM missiles are capable of engaging beyond the range of 20 nautical miles (37 km). The Astra Mk-1 has a range of around 110 km. The Mk-2 with a range over 150 km is under development while the Mk-3 with a longer range is being envisaged. One more version of Astra, with a range smaller than Mk-1’s, too is under development.
It must be noted that India is testing the solid-fuelled ducted ramjet (SFDR) technology critical for long-range air-to-air missiles. The SFDR propulsion system, which was also tested in 2019, is critical to the missile's performance in the terminal phase. The development of SFDR technology will enable India to make its own long-range air-to-air missile, which could mirror the capabilities of the best missiles in this class, like MBDA’s Meteor, which the Indian Air Force uses on its Rafales. The Meteor missile also depends on its ramjet propulsion for "more energy to manoeuver during the endgame of the engagement." The latest test of SDFR technology was conducted in April this year. The technology had also been tested in March and December 2021.
In July 2020, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had approved the purchase of 248 Astra-MK1 missiles, of which 200 are meant for the IAF and 48 for the Navy. Air to Air missile with BVR capability provides large stand off ranges to fighter aircraft which can neutralise the adversary aircraft without exposing itself to adversary air defence measures, thereby gaining and sustaining superiority of the air space. This missile is technologically and economically superior to many such imported missile systems. Stand-off range means the missile is launched at a distance far enough to allow the attacking side to evade defensive fire from the target.
Till now, the technology to manufacture missiles of this class indigenously was not available. However, under the Buy Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed, Developed, and Manufactured ) program, the sector has received a major boost. This has enabled BDL to offer Astra missile for export to friendly foreign countries (FFC). Induction of Astra Mk-1 weapon system programme into IAF and Indian Navy will act as a catalyst for creation of infrastructure in terms of hanger, storage buildings, testing facilities for manufacturing as well as creating 600 employment opportunities.