India is soon going to test its indigenously-developed BVR air-to-air missile ‘Astra’ from the Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’, the Indian publication Times Of India reported. The missile has already seen successful integration with the Su-30MKI aircraft.
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The step is seen as an important move inching closer towards the full operational capability of the missile with IAF’s fighter fleet and would replace the existing Russian, French, and Israeli BVR missiles in service.
The 21st-century aerial battles have shown the importance of beyond visual range engagements, a major capability gap for the Indian Air Force’s backbone fighter fleet operating the Su-30MKI.
The aircraft, however, does sport the Russian-made R-77 and R-27 medium/long-range BVR missiles, which are deemed to be insufficient and too expensive to meet the IAF requirements.
In 2019, it was reported that the service is considering to replace these Russian-origin missiles with Israeli I-Derby ER missile. To bridge the gap, the Indian Government had again ordered 400 latest-generation R-77 missiles last year.
In August 2020, the service also successfully test-fired a French-made MICA missile from the Su-30.
However, this time the star of the show is the Indian home-grown LCA Tejas, which is said to be developed with a ‘western approach’ to aircraft armament and avionics.
The aircraft itself was built specifically for the IAF requirements to replace the MiG-21 Bisons and would sport an array of advanced arsenal which includes Russian R-73 and R-77, Israeli Python-5 and I-Derby ER, the British ASRAAM, and last but not the least, the indigenous Astra family.
Similar in characteristics to the AIM-120 AMRAAM, the Astra has been one of the most high-priority projects with DRDO. The experience gained in its development has also facilitated other air-launched missile projects, like the NGARM (or now called, ‘Rudram-1’).
The missile, much like its carrier Tejas, had also seen many delays in its development when work started on it in 1990. According to the report, the missile has completed its ground tests and will begin flight testing with the LCA in the coming months.
The Astra, upon being integrated with other fighters as well, would be the IAF and IN’s standard BVR missile carried by the MiG-29UPG/MiG-29K, the Su-30MKI, the LCA Tejas, the Mirage-2000, and the future 5th-generation AMCA.
“Once the flight trials on Tejas are completed, large-scale orders will follow,” a source told TOI. The news comes at a time when orders for 83 Tejas Mk-1A is also on the verge of getting approval by the Government of India.