(This was originally published in The Indian Express by Hemant Kumar Rout)
BHUBANESWAR: India’s latest Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missile Astra Mk II is all set to move out of the drawing board as the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is likely to conduct its first developmental trial this week.
Defence sources said the indigenously developed missile will be flight tested from a ground launcher being set up at launching complex III of Integrated Test Range (ITR) off Odisha coast on Thursday. The initial trials of the successor of Astra Mk I will be to test the weapon system’s ballistic performance. Once the safe release of the missile from the ground launcher and its propulsion and navigation are validated, it would be test-fired from a fighter aircraft.
A team of defence scientists and technical officers are camping at the test facility for the much-awaited mission of the year. “The test window is from February 18 to 20. The missile has already been integrated with the launcher and the final check-ups are on. If everything goes as per plan, the missile will be fired on the first date,” sources said. The go-ahead for Astra Mk II came nearly seven months after the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved the procurement of Astra Mk I for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Navy.
While the previous version of the Astra missile has a range of about 110 km, its advanced variant can strike targets 160 km away. Equipped with improved jammer resistance and a dual pulse motor having thrust vector control, the Astra Mk II is the latest among the air-to-air missiles of its class. The DRDO has developed an indigenous seeker to improve the performance of the missile and replace the Russian radio frequency seeker used in the Astra Mk I.
Sources said the missile will be powered by Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR), which will enhance its performance and increase the strike range. Procurement of Astra Mk I for the IAF was approved after it completed ground tests and air trial from a Sukhoi 30 MKI aircraft. The process is on to integrate the missile with the Made in India Tejas fighter jet.
Meanwhile, prior to the Mk II test, the DRDO has decided to evacuate people residing within two km radius of the ITR as a safety measure. As many as 8,000 people from at least seven hamlets will be shifted to temporary shelters ahead of the test.
Balasore district administration has been asked to make arrangements and complete the evacuation of villagers before 8 am on the scheduled date. The people shifted for the mission will be compensated as per Ministry of Defence (MoD) norms.