Astra during ground trials (above) and captive flight trials on Su-30 MKI (below).
By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore/Hyderabad: India is all geared up to conduct the release flight trails (firing) of the beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVR-AAM) Astra, being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Sources tell Express that the the missile configuration has been re-engineered after going through five ballistic and 13 control flights. With all its subsystems being qualified for airworthiness it will be ready for release flight trials for the first time from a Sukhoi (Su-30MKI) fighter during the first quarter of 2013.
In the meantime, captive flight trials (a total of eight) have been conducted on the aircraft in 2010-11 for establishing the structural integrity of the aircraft with the missiles for the complete flight envelope. The Rs 955-crore project was sanctioned in 2004 to develop two versions (Mk-1: 50 km & Mk-II: 100 km) for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
The programme ran into rough weather for an year owing to controllability issues and higher than expected rolling moments at high angles of attack. The new symmetric configuration fully addresses these concerns and the whole of 2012 will be dedicated to testing a number of missiles from the ground to prove the configuration and engagement envelopes. Two subsystems had also to be re-designed and re-packaged to meet the new system configuration. "There are too many conflicting requirements for an air-to-air missile such as stability and safe release coupled with high agility during engagement against the target aircraft. We have sorted all the issues now," sources said.
"During the captive trials the total structural integrity of the missile and the launcher (modified one used by R-73 missile) on Sukhoi has been tested. Vibrations, shock and strains on the missile and the launcher at all altitudes and Mach numbers (-1 to 9 'g') were tested. As we are proving the missile, the platform is also getting proven and readied. The missile will be first integrated on Sukhoi, then Tejas and finally on to the MiG-29," sources said.
DRDO hopes to have the production versions of Astra Mkl-I & II on the three different fighters by 2016. "We have got two Su-30MKI aircraft from the IAF which has come with all modifications. Integration of the aircraft avionics with the missile on-board equipment are being carried out using the Sukhoi test rig at IAF's Software Development Institute in Bangalore. This will further undergo rigorous checks during the captive flight trials planned in mid-2012 for qualifying the electronic integrity in flight using a metric missile," sources said.
A young 50-member team in their mid-30s are putting their act together to take the project forward. This is the first air-to-air missile being developed in India, which is claimed to match more than MICA, Meteor (both French) and AMRAAM (US). The home-grown Tejas fighter will probably get a taste of Astra missile during the last quarter of 2013.
Every material from metal, airframes, propellant, fasteners, wires to electronics have to be certified for airworthiness and the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification with the Regional Centres for Military Airworthiness (Missiles) & (Air-Armament) are on an overtime mode to achieve these goals.
The biggest challenge for the missile will be to demonstrate its capabilities against subsonic and supersonic targets. To make the project enter production phase early, the sub-systems of Astra are being made by multiple industries, to enable faster delivery of identical systems. "We have no issues as far as subsystems are concerned. Efforts are also on to develop a parallel agency for production and system integration," sources said.
Today, the mainstay of the IAF are the Russian-made R-73 and R-27 missiles and once the Tejas gets operational, the Israeli-made Derby too will join the party. India has already developed a dual-pulse rocket motor (enahances the range) for Astra Mk-II. "Self reliance in air launched missile and particularly air-to-air system is of strategic importance considering the new paradigm of air superiority warfare," sources said.
Astra project is a tech-treat considering the miniaturization of the systems, including on-board computer, data links for transmitter/receiver and rotary electro-mechanical actuators. A smokeless, non-metallized high-specific impulse propellant was developed for the rocket motor.
The missile will use 'Agat' seeker from Russia which will be produced in India through a total transfer-of-technology process. The development programe will see about 100-plus missiles produced intially, thanks to the two variants and different platforms.
[Copyright@The New Indian Express | Series to be continued]
(CRACKING INDIA'S MISSILE CODE is an exclusive series currently on in The New Indian Express. In the days ahead, you will get to read a mix of news-breaks and tech-upgrades on current and futuristic missile programs of India, in addition to some human-interest pieces. Email your thoughts on this long-range series to firstname.lastname@example.org and point out factual errors, if any, that might have crept in despite my best efforts.)