Poised for A Hattrick

Astra-1 BVRAAM, QR-SAM and NG-ARM will be used by a family of precision-guided weapons

Prasun K. Sengupta

Building up on the military-technological/military-industrial successes achieved thus far through its 25km-range  Akash-1 surface-to-air missile (SAM) and 80km-range B arak-8 LR-SAM (see FORCE February 2017) projects, India’s ministry of defence-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is now poised to achieve a hattrick of sorts by deploying a family of precision-guided weapons that will all use the same basic airframe — the Astra-1 beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), the quick reaction surface-to-air-missile (QR-SAM), and the new-generation anti-radiation missile (NG-ARM).

While the Akash-1 is now operational with both the Indian Army (IA) and Indian Air Force (IAF), the Barak-8’s projected operators include the IA, IAF and the Indian Navy (IN). The Astra-1 will enter service with the IAF early next year, while the QR-SAM will be service-inducted by both the IA and IAF, with the 45km-range NG-ARM being delivered by late next year to the IAF and IN.

The 3.8-metre long Astra-1 BVRAAM has been under active development since December 2012 and its final development trials were successfully concluded between September 11 and 14. Altogether, seven kinematic trials were conducted against DRDO-developed PTAE-7 Lakshya pilotless target aircraft (PTA), these involving guided-firings from an IAF Su-30MKI at different altitudes — one at an altitude of 15km with 90km to 110km range, another at an altitude up to 30,000 feet having a range of 44km, while the third was at sea-level with a range of 21km. Having a diameter of 178mm with an overall launch weight of 160kg, the Astra-1 carries a 15kg warhead, and it makes use of an imported Russia-origin (Agat JSC-supplied) 9B-1348E Ku-band terminal active radar seeker — the same that is used by the in-service Vympel JSC-supplied R-77 BVRAAMs of the IAF and IN. The follow-on Akash-2 variant now under development will make use of an indigenous Ku-band seeker developed by the DRDO’s Hyderabad-based Research Centre Imarat (RCI).

The Astra-2 BVRAAM is also being modified for use with the ground-based QR-SAM system, and its maiden test-firing took place on June 4 this year (followed by another one on July 3) at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur, off the Odisha coastline. The Mach 1.8 QR-SAM will have a kill-zone of between 3km and 30km in range, from 30 metres to 6km in altitude, and 360-degree in azimuth. For the IA a typical QR-SAM Regiment will comprise a Regimental Command Post Vehicle (RCPV), one S-band 90km-range air-defence tactical control radar (ADTCR) for volumetric airspace surveillance, and three Batteries, each of which will include a Battery Command Post Vehicle (BCPV), a 120km-range C-band active phased-array Battery Surveillance Radar (BSR), and four Combat Groups (CG). Each CG in turn will comprise an X-band 80km-range active phased-array Battery Multi-Function Radar (BMFR), plus a 16km-range optronic fire-control system, and four Missile Launch Vehicles (MLV), each of which will carry six canister-encased missiles.

The IAF-specific variant of the QR-SAM will be employed exclusively for cruise missile defence (CMD), in particular against China’s ground-launched CJ-10/DF-10A and air-launched K/AKD-20 land-attack cruise missiles or LACM (all these being clones of the Ukrainian Korshun LACM that had been developed in the Nineties by Dnipropetrovsk-based Yuzhnoye State Design Bureau and Yuzhnoye Machine-Building Production Association, or Yuzhmash), and against the Babur (a DF-10A clone) and Ra’ad LACMs of Pakistan. The Pakistan Army has till date raised two Babur Battalions — the 23rd and 26th Missile Group — (at a rate of one Battery every year starting 2009), with each having four Batteries with six TELs housing 24 LACMs and 24 reloads and 12 other supporting vehicles, all manned by 175 personnel.

As for the CMD network’s projected deployment sites, two little known villages in the Alwar and Pali districts of Rajasthan have been selected for the first two QR-SAM Squadrons.  Rajasthan’s State Forests Department has cleared the acquisition of 850 hectares of land in Khoa in Alwar district, and 350 hectares in Roopnagar for installing a CMD grid that will protect the western and southern approaches to India’s National Capital Region. Site selection work for a similar CMD grid meant for Jamnagar and Mumbai is now in progress.

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