Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chief Satheesh Reddy at Aero India 2021, said that the Astra Mk2 next-generation long-range BVR air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) will be tested later in the year for the first time and the missile system will be ready to enter production in 2023.
Astra Mk2 uses most of the technologies borrowed from other successful missiles like its Dual-Pulse motor from MRSAM and Seeker from Astra Mk1, which will give it a range of 160+Km in a head-on chase and around 40 km in a tail chase mode.
Astra Mk3, a Very long-range BVR air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) will start its Developmental trials in 2022 that DRDO has co-developed with Russia. a solid-fueled air-breathing ramjet engine based Astra Mk3 has been tested from a ground-based launcher twice in previous years and demonstrated first its smokeless booster and later its ramjet engine.
Astra Mk3 will have a range of 70-340km in the power ‘ ON’ Mode. Indian Air Force (IAF) already has assigned 5 Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets that will be upgraded with the latest software patch and will go through minor modifications so that they can be used as a testbed for the Astra Mk2 developmental/user trials.
Astra Mk2 program is on fast track mode off late and most of the developmental/user trials will be done at real-world combat simulation to fast track its trials and move to production at a much faster rate. DRDO already has manufactured dozen-plus pre-production units of Astra Mk2 missile to ensure that developmental/user trials are fast-tracked.
HAL plans to test-fire Astra Mk1 Medium range BVR air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) from one of the Tejas LSP aircraft by end of this year so that FOC Tejas Mk1 is enabled with Astra Mk1 BVR missiles before they move to forward airbase to see active combat duty from 2022 onwards.
HAL is also working on the integration of Astra Mk1 on the Mig-29UPG fleet, the Second Russian fighter jet to get a locally developed Medium range BVR air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) after Sukhoi-30MKI jets. Astra Mk1 trials from Mig-29UPG are also slated by end of this year or in early next year.
IAF already has placed fresh orders for 200 Astra Mk1 and more fresh orders are likely to come in 2022, as the missile becomes standardized across the IAF fighter fleet over the next few years.
Astra Mk2 and Mk3 will play a key role in providing firepower edge to IAF over both PAF and PLAAF. The need for extended range BVR missiles was realized on 27th Feb 2019, when a PAF F-16 carrying AMRAAM-120 missile with a range of 100+ km was able to shoot down IAF Mig-21Bison. However, IAF didn't have any missile which could outmatch US-made AMRAAM.
After 27th Feb Air battles with PAF, IAF placed an order for Russian-made, R-77-1 missiles that can match AMRAAM's capabilities. In addition to this, after the Induction of Rafale Jets, IAF now also possesses a BVRAAM Meteor missile with a range of more than 150 km.