In a significant development aimed at bolstering the firepower of the Indian Air Force's fighter aircraft, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is gearing up to conduct the inaugural test of the Astra Mark 2 air-to-air missile. This missile boasts a strike range of 130 km and has the capability to target adversaries beyond visual range.

The Astra series of air-to-air missiles are part of the Astra program, which aims to enhance the aerial combat capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces. The Astra MK-1 missiles, a predecessor to the MK-2, have already been successfully inducted into both the Indian Air Force and the Navy.

The Astra MK-2 is a longer-range variant of the Astra MK-1 Air-To-Air BVR missile, which is currently used by the Indian Air Force (IAF) integrate with the Sukhoi Su-30MKI jet.

Two years ago, in May 2022, the IAF and the Indian Navy ordered 248 Astra MK-1 missiles — 200 for the IAF and 48 for the Navy — at a cost of ₹2,971 crores from Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL).

All the missiles are expected to be delivered within six years from the date of signing the contract.

Salient Features

The Astra-II missile is reportedly capable of reaching distances of up to 160 km. While specific technical details of this missile remain somewhat elusive, key aspects have been identified.

Foremost is the fact that much like its siblings in the Astra series—namely Astra IR with its 80 km range, Astra MK-1, Astra MK-2, and the anticipated Astra MK-3—Astra MK-2 employs the use of a common ejector launcher system, the ‘Astra launcher’. Evidence of this was displayed in images released by the IAF following a recent Astra MK-2 test.

The Astra MK-2 missile is furnished with a dual-pulse solid rocket motor to extend its range. The inclusion of an AESA radar seeker is also anticipated. The use of a laser proximity fuse is anticipated for increased precision. Additionally, both Astra missiles are equipped with a smokeless propulsion system for a cleaner discharge. The missile’s Electronic Counter-Countermeasure (ECCM) capabilities allow for unrestricted operation in an Electronic Counter-Countermeasure (ECM) environment.

DRDO is focusing on developing a special motor to extend the missile's range. The existing Astra MK-1 missile has a range of up to 100 kilometres, with potential for further extension.

During an annual press conference on October 4, 2022, IAF released footage of an Astra MK--2 launched from a Su-30MKI using Unified Common Launcher developed by DRDO with industry partners for air-to-air missiles.

New Engine

Unlike the single-pulse rocket motor of the Astra MK-1, the Astra MK-2 uses a dual-pulse rocket motor, which dramatically increases its range and kill probability, reported Swarajya Mag.

The single-pulse rocket motor in the Astra MK-1 burns its entire solid propellant in one go during the launch phase, imparting high kinetic energy and velocity to the missile, to the tune of 4.5 Mach or above.

After the propellant burns out, the missile coasts down without any power, relying simply on gravity and kinetic energy.

The farther away the target, the more the A2A missile slows down due to air drag. This limits the end-game kinematics of the missile — essentially the manoeuvring capability of the missile when it reaches close to its target.

This is precisely what the dual-pulse rocket motor aims to address.

In the endgame, the second pulse of the dual-pulse motor fires, giving additional velocity and kinetic energy to the missile, providing either additional range or better end-game kinematics for a higher probability of kill.

It is expected that the missile will have a maximum range of anywhere between 130 and 160 kilometres.

Another more advanced and longer-range missile — Astra MK-3 is under development, as well.

This missile will be using solid-fuelled ducted ramjet (SFDR) engine giving the missile a maximum strike of range of more than 300 kilometres.

The Astra MK-3 missile will rival the French-made Rafale fighter jet's primary long-range Meteor BVR missile.

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