Image: Varun Karthikeyan       

IAF in association with Indian defence industry is developing a universal launcher for Sukhoi Su-30MKI, which will be able to fit multiple stations which. Two variants are planned a air-to-air and air-to-ground. The air-to-ground should be capable of carrying a load carrying capability between 50-1500 kg load. The launcher is designed and developed to integrate Astra missiles on aircraft. The design of the launcher is such that it should let the missile be integrated on any aircraft with minimum changes. This will help to standardise launchers from different OEM suppliers reports this Twitter handle.

India is developing the Astra series to replace the expensive Russian, French, and Israeli-origin beyond-visual-range missiles. Astra MK-2 has a range of around 160 km. The new missile will have improved jammer resistance and an indigenous seeker. The missile will be equipped with a dual-pulse rocket motor, which is critical for its long range.

The development comes even as work is on to integrate the current 110 km version of the Astra MK-1 on board the Indian Air Force’s MiG-29 and Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’ MK-1, and the Indian Navy’s MiG-29K aircraft. The Astra MK-1 is already integrated with the IAF’s Su-30MKI fighters, and the production process — by state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited — has begun.

Once the overall integration plans are completed, the Astra will be the standard long-range air-to-air missile across India’s entire fighter fleet, except the French-origin Rafale and Mirage.

MK-2 Variant

As of now, with a range of over 110 km and a maximum speed of Mach 4.5 (over 5,500 kmph), the Astra Mk 1 is seen as a game-changer, which can bring back India’s air-to-air combat superiority over Pakistan.

While India now also has European developer MBDA’s Meteor missiles with the Rafale’s induction, they are much more costly (Rs 25 crore each) compared to the Astra (Rs 7-8 crore).

For the second version of the Astra missile, called Mark 2, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on dual-pulse rocket motor to extend the range up to 160 km by May 2022.

Work is also going on to replace the Russian radio frequency (RF) seekers’ on the missile with indigenous ones.

Ramjet Development

It must be noted that India is testing the solid-fuelled ducted ramjet (SFDR) technology critical for long-range air-to-air missiles. Astra MK-3 is based on the solid fuel-based ducted ramjet propulsion, the Times of India report adds.

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 manoeuvre during the endgame of the engagement."

"The ramjet motor [propulsion system] provides the [Meteor] missile with thrust all the way to target intercept, providing the largest No-Escape Zone of any air-to-air missile," the literature on the missile on the MBAD website reads.

The latest test of SDFR technology was conducted in April this year. The technology had also been tested in March and December 2021.

Sources said the present Astra missile has export potential and can be offered to friendly countries.