The Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Missiles Are The Future Of Aerial Combat, The Importance Of BVR’s Can Be Understood By The Example Of 27th February 2019 Where Pakistani F-16’s Fired Several AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air To Air Missile) On Indian Su-30 MKI’s However None Of them Reached It Targets Because Of Powerful Israeli Jammer On Those Su-30 MKI’s And Those Who Did Reach Near Sukhoi’s Were Never Able To Match The Maneuverability Of Sukhoi’s However It Also Taught India A Lesson That Modern BVR (Beyond Visual Range) Missiles Are Needed, Because At That Time The Sukhoi 30 MKI’s Were Armed With Russian Made R-77 Which Were Falling Inferior To Enemy’s BVR’s, So After That Incident India Immediately Went For Its Own Indigenous BVR Missile The Astra Missile.
Before Understanding What Is Astra Missile And How A BVR Missile Works, Let Us Understand Their Guidance–
Most of The Air To Air Missiles Are Guided In Following Ways:-
INFRARED GUIDANCE– Where a Missile Seeks Heat Coming out Of an Aircraft’s Engine and The Lock’s On To The Aircraft, Usually These Type Of Guidance Are Used In VR (Visual Range) Missiles and Have A Shorter-Range Of Approximately Less Than 30 Km’s.
RADAR GUIDANCE– Now this Is The Guidance System Used In Most Of The BVR (Beyond Visual Range) Missiles, A Missile With a Range Of 37+ Km’s is Known As BVR Missiles. BVR Missiles Like Astra Or Meteor Are Guided By An Inbuilt Radar System, Now This Could Be Active Radar Homing System (ARHS) or Semi-Active Radar Homing System (SARHS), The Main Difference Between Both Is That ARHS Allows The Launcher (Fighter Aircraft Or Drone) To “Fire And Forget” (Which Means That The Launch Vehicle Now Can Turn Away Or Do Some Other Mission because the Missile Don’t Require Any Guidance After Launch And Launcher Don’t Need TO Be In Line Of Sight Of Target, The Missile Will Hunt For Its Target On Its Own) While SARHS is Dependent on Launcher’s Radar Reflected Energy Which Makes them More Accurate But Their Range Is Not As Much Of Those Missiles Which Are Guided By ARHS, However The ARHS Has To Use Some Other Guidance System Alongside Because Most Of The Radar Seeker Inside ARHS BVR Missiles Are Powered By A Battery So If The Missile Will Start Using The Radar Seeker Just From The Point When It Was Fired It Might Exhaust Battery Early And Hence Missile Would Not Be Able To Detect The Target Early.
The Air To Air Missiles Are Guided By Other Methods Also Like Electro-Optical Guidance, Beam Riding, Passive Anti-Radiation Etc.
INDIA’s INDIGENOUS BVR MISSILE- THE ASTRA MISSILE
So Now Let Us Know About Each Variant Of Astra Missile In Detail And How Does A BVR Works-
ASTRA Beyond Visual Range Missile Is One Of The Worlds Fastest And Best BVR, The Program On Astra Missile Started In 1990 When It Was Originally Developed For HAL TEJAS. DRDO (Defence Research And Development Organisation) Has Planned Four Variants of Astra Missile Which Are Astra MK-1, Astra MK-2, ASTRA MK-3, And Astra IR. Astra MK-1, MK-2, MK-3 Are BVR Version Of This Missile While Astra IR Is Infrared Version.
DEVELOPMENT- The Development On This Program Was Started In 1990, But The Astra Missile Was First Revealed At Aero India 1998 and This Missile Was Originally Built For Tejas Program, The Missile Was First Tested In May 2003. During Its Initial Phase, it Had A weight of 300Kg’s with a Range of 25-40 Kms Only. The Government Had Sanctioned Rupees 955 Crores For The Program To Develop Astra Missiles In 2004, The Program Was Leaded By DRDO (Defence Research And Development Organisation) with Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) and Electronics Corporation Of India Limited (ECIL). The Astra Missile We Are Watching Today Is Much Different From Its Initial Versions Because It Was redesigned around 2006 due to control issues and performance deficiencies at high altitudes. The initial design of four cruciform short-span long-chord wings was replaced by cropped delta wings placed near the nose. The redesigned missile had an improved propulsion system and was tested for the first time in 2008. By 2013, the missile had been redesigned again in response to multiple failures caused by adverse interactions between flight control surfaces. The control, guidance, and propulsion systems were also reconfigured. After the second redesign, the missile was lighter than the initial version by around 130 kg. It was tested from the ground thrice in December 2012 and captive trials from a Sukhoi Su-30MKI were held in April 2013. Astra completed the final development trials in September 2017.
Astra MK-1 Missile– Is A BVR Missile developed By DRDO Indigenously, The Astra is One Of the Worlds Fastest and Best BVR’s which Could Be Exported To Friendly Nations In Future, Currently, The Missile Is Integrated With Su-30 MKI’s But In Future Plans Are There to Integrate It With Mirage 2000, Mig 29 UPG and Tejas MK-1, MK-1A And MK2. Recently Indian Air Force (IAF) Along With the Indian Navy (IN) Ordered 248 Astra Missiles (200 For IAF and 48 for Navy).
SPECIFICATIONS/WORKING– Astra MK1 is a Medium Range BVR Missile which is guided By an Inertial Navigation System First and By Active Radar Homing System during Terminal Phase (When Missile Is near the Target). Astra’s Maximum Range is Claimed to Be 110 Kms (Range Of BVR’s Depend On Altitude of Aircraft and Many Other Factors) among which 80 Km Is Head On Range According to Some Sources (When Enemy Aircraft is Approaching Towards The Aircraft From Which Missile Has To Be Fired) and 20Km is The Chase Range ( When Enemy Aircraft Is Moving Away From Aircraft Which is Firing Missile) with Top Speed of 5,555+ Km/h (One of The Fastest In The World). The Astra MK-1 powered By A Smokeless Single Solid Rocket Motor, The Ability Of A Solid Rocket Motor Is That It Keeps Burning Until The Whole Fuel Isn’t Exhausted However It Is A Disadvantage Also Because Of This We Can’t Control The Speed Of The Missile Or Its Fuel Consumption And It Keeps Providing Thrust Even When It Is Not Needed (Thrust Is Only Needed When The Missile Is Near The Target To Chase It And Perform High G-Maneuvers If Needed). The Propellant Doesn’t Leave Any Trail’s Behind Making It Even Harder To Detect The Missile. Astra’s Current Active Radar Seeker Have a Homing range of 25 Km’s and It Can Lock A Target Of 5 Sq. Meters from A Distance Of 15 Km’s and Currently It is A Russian Radar Seeker However Later Astra -MK1 will Have a Seeker Which Is Indigenously Developed Which Would Be A Ku-Band Radar Seeker [ Also Used In QRSAM (Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile) and Akaash- IS], The Indigenous Radar Seeker Will Have Lock On Range Between 13-20 Kms. The Missile Also Have A Good ECCM (Electronic Counter-Counter Measures) which Makes It To Survive A ECM (Electronic Counter Measure) Environment Easily.
DIMENSIONS– The 154 Kg’s Astra MK-1 Can Carry a Warhead of 15 Kgs And Have a Length of 3.57 Meter and a Diameter of 178 mm.
UPCOMING VARIANTS– After the IAF had given Orders for Astra MK1, the path for Upcoming Variants is Cleared. Currently, Only Astra MK-1 Is Used But The Upcoming Variants Will Be The Astra MK-2 And MK-3
Astra MK-2 –
Astra MK-2 Missile-Is Powered by a Dual Pulse Solid Rocket Motor Which Makes It Deadlier by Increasing Its Range, and According To Latest Reports Astra MK-2 Is Ready for Trials and Four Su-30 MKI’s Are Being Upgraded To Test Astra MK-2’s. The Test Will Be Conducted In 2022.
SPECIFICATIONS/WORKING- ASTRA-MK2 Will Be A Long Range BVR because Of Its Expected Range Of 160-180 Km’s But Experts Believe That This Missile Will Have A Much Longer Range, It Is Because Of The Dual Pulse Solid Rocket Motor They Are Using, As Said Earlier The Ability Of A Solid Rocket Motor Is That It Keeps Burning Untill The Whole Fuel Isn’t Exhausted However It Is A Disadvantage Also Because Of This We Can’t Control The Speed Of The Missile Or Its Fuel Consumption So To Overcome This We Use Dual Pulse Solid Rocket Motor, as The Name Suggest There Are TWO Pulses (Segments/Chamber), Which in Simple Language Means That There Are Two Fuel Tanks, First A Missile Gains Maximum Speed By Using A Single Fuel Tank And Then When It Exhausts, The Missile Is Allowed To Float In Air By The Momentum It Had Gained Till Then, After That The Second Fuel Tank Powers The Missile When The Missile Is Near The Target (In Terminal Phase) Or Is Required To Do High G-Maneuvers, This Increases The No Escape Zone And Threat Zone Of Missiles Significantly And Make Missile More Deadlier And Just For A Fact China’s So Claimed Most Strongest BVR Missile The PL-15 With Range Of 250+Km Is Powered By Same Propellant.
Astra MK-3/ DRDO SFDR Missile AND ITS WORKING –- Also Known As ‘Desi Meteor’ The Astra MK-3 Will Be Powered By A SFDR (Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet), This Missile Is Really Comparable To MBDA Meteor Missile, The Meteor Missile Can Be Seen As A Whole Aircraft In Its Own Because SFDR powered Missile Carries Radar, Ramjet Engine, Booster, Fuel, etc Also Other Missiles Have To Carry Both The Oxidizer And Fuel For Combustion However SFDR Powered Missiles Don’t Have These Problems As They Have Ducts or Intakes From Which They Directly Take Air From Atmosphere Also They Can Throttle Their Engines Which Makes Them To Cruise At Supersonic Speed And increase Their Speed When They Are Near The Target (Terminal Phase), A Mechanism Somewhat Similar To Dual Pulse Solid Rocket Motor However More Efficient, But A Constraint In SFDR Engine is That The Missile Needs To Be At Super-Sonic Speed For Ramjet Engine To Start And Do Combustion However It Is Not Always Possible For An Aircraft To Fly At Super-Sonic Speed Always, Now These Missiles Are Powered By A Booster Which Makes Them To Reach At Super-Sonic Speed And Then Ramjet Engines Are Powered For Combustion.
SPECIFICATION’s- Astra MK-3’s Booster Is Made By DRDO while Ramjet Engine Would Be Made In Corporation With Russia also The No Escape Zone Of This Missile Is Said To Be Of 100+ Km’s And The Range Of Missile Is Said To Be Of 350 Km’s At Highest Altitude And Dimensions Being Less Than 4M in Length And Diameter Being Less Than 200mm And To Less Length And Small Diameter This Missile Is Predicted to Be Integrated On Wide Variety Of Aircrafts In Indian Air Force.
DEVELOPMENT– Till Now 2 Test Of These Missiles Are Conducted, One On 30 May 2018 In Which The Nozzle-Less Booster Worked Properly, however, the Ramjet Engine Was Not Able To Perform Correctly so A Second Test Took Place On 8 February 2019 In Which Ramjet Worked Properly and Missile Was Down To Ground After It Achieved The Desired Mach Speed.
So Till Now We Have Seen Different Variants Of Astra Missile And Their Working But Just To Clarify How A Single Solid Pulse Rocket Motored Power Beyond Visual Range Missile Like Astra MK-1 Work Let’s See This Again-
Astra Mk-1 When Is Fired From Its Mother Aircraft, It Is Headed Towards The Predicted Location Of Target Using Inertial Navigation System And Now Astra MK-1 Is A Single Pulse Solid Rocket Motor Missile, So The Rocket Motor Will Be Turned On And It Will Keep Working Untill It Exhausts All The Fuel After That Let Us Assume That This Astra Missile Have The DRDO’s Ku- Band Radar Seeker whose Homing Range Is between 13-20 Km’s, So Now At A Predetermined Point Which Is Frequently Based Upon The Time Since Missile Is Launched Or The Predicted Location Of Target, This Radar Seeker Will Get Active And Will Scan For The Target Within Its Range i.e. 13-20 Km’s And As Soon As Radar Get Any Indication Of Enemies Aircraft/Drone, The Radar Will Lock-On And Missile Will Home Into Enemies Aircraft. The Chances Of Missile To Hit The Target Is Maximum In “NO ESCAPE ZONE” Cause Till Here Missile Have Got Thrust And Control’s and Have the Ability To Perform Maneuvers After That Missile Loses It’s Thrust But Still Have A High Speed And Can Perform Maneuvers to Some Extent, But Even After That The Missiles Loses The Speed And Can NOT Perform any Maneuvers To Chase Target.
I Believe This Line Is True “Astra Is More Than A Weapon For India”.