Missile Mantra

With a slew of BVRAAMs in the pipeline, India may well dominate its airspace

Mihir Paul

Air-to-air missiles are categorised as ‘within-visual-range’ (WYR) and ‘beyond-visual-range’ (BVR). The within-visual-range, or ‘dogfight,’ missile describes a weapon traditionally dependent on infra-red guidance. In contrast, the ‘dogfight’ missiles now in service are capable of being fired at a target from any aspect within range, and at considerably extended ranges, and with far greater missile manoeuvrability. This is where BVRs come in.

India’s first successfully tested BVR missile, the Astra

Since the close quarter’s air combat has become increasingly lethal, the ability to engage at target at greater ranges grows increasingly more attractive. In a full-blown peer-on-peer war, most of the air combat would begin at such ranges. BVR weapons are normally associated with either semi-active or active radar guidance.

Nations are acquiring air-to-air missiles to deal with emerging threats in their respective neighbourhoods and one good measure intended to cope with a window of vulnerability has become the long-range stand-off weapon that will engage the enemy aircraft deep in the horizon before it can launch its own stand-off air-to-surface missiles aimed at vital points and vital installations.

Hence, BVR air warfare gained significance. Much of this is the product of the capabilities incorporated in the Airborne Warning and Command Systems Aircraft (AWACS) that has come to dominate air warfare by being able to track scores of targets while scanning for other dangers that may be lurking on the horizon (which itself depends on height from ground the aircraft may be flying). It can select as many as a dozen for immediate dispatch and launch its BVR medium range missiles to hit the enemy at distances beyond 20 miles (32 km).

India’s Very Own BVR – Astra

Astra is an all-weather BVR air-to-air missile developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). It is the first air-to-air missile developed by India. It features mid-course inertial guidance with terminal active radar homing. Astra is designed to be capable of engaging targets at varying range and altitude allowing for engagement of both short-range targets at a distance of 20 km and long-range targets up to a distance of 80km. Astra has been integrated with Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi Su-30MKI and will be integrated with Dassault Mirage 2000 and Mikoyan MiG-29 in the future.

Astra’s first live fire test took place in September 2017. Fired from a fighter aircraft travelling at over 1,000 kilometres per hour, the Astra destroyed an enemy fighter 65-70 kilometres away.

The missions included target engagement at very long range, engagement of rapidly manoeuvring target at medium range and multiple launches of missiles in salvo to engage multiple targets. According to the ministry of defence (MoD) release, all sub-systems, including the indigenous RF seeker, performed accurately, meeting all the mission parameters and objectives. Two missiles were also launched in the combat configuration with warhead, and the targets were neutralised.

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