No Place to Escape

Test firing of Astra missile is a milestone as aerial weapons have transformed air warfare

Dinesh Kumar PandeyD.K. Pandey

The remarkable and significant accomplishment of the historic and triumphant test-firing of the ASTRA Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM), a notable aerial weapon, by LCA Tejas on 28 August 2023, has elicited profound enthusiasm and admiration from both the defence forces and the erudite scientific community. This milestone will undeniably augment the combat capabilities of the Tejas aircraft. In addition, it will mitigate the reliance on foreign-sourced armaments.

The critical role of aerial weapons has prompted both the development and ensuing reaction. The emergence of air-launched missiles has unambiguously revolutionised the intricacies of aerial warfare.

Aerial Weapons (AW) are described as ‘weapons designed for use against airborne targets’ in the Nato glossary of abbreviations. Aerial weapons, informally referred to as air-launched or airborne weapons, are meticulously engineered to facilitate their deployment from aerial platforms. They are indispensable in contemporary aerial warfare, assuming a momentous function amidst a fiercely contested environment.

Aerial weapons are referred to as both air-launched and aerial-to-aerial weapons. They possess the dual capability of being launched from airborne platforms as well as being employed against aerial targets, contingent upon the specific characteristics of the armament and the platform in question. However, it is more commonly referred to as air-launched weapons.

Air-launched weapons are fired from an aerial platform, namely a fighter aircraft, strategic bomber or rotary-wing aircraft to engage other aircraft. These versatile aerial assets can engage in offensive manoeuvres against terrestrial and maritime objectives and aerial adversaries. Airborne munitions include air-to-air, air-to-ground and air-to-sea weapons.

The classification of the AAMs is primarily range-specific, resulting in two fundamental categories: the short-range or within-visual-range air-to-air missile (SRAAMs or WVRAAMs) and the BVRAAMs encompassing medium to long-range variants. While WVR missiles can travel up to 20 nautical miles (37 km), BVR missiles can travel farther. Infrared seekers are often used to guide WVR missiles, while radar seekers guide BVR missiles. WVR missiles are deployed during aerial dogfights where pilots can see each other. AIM-9 Sidewinder, R-73 Archer, and Python-5 are a few examples of WVRAAMs. BVR missiles, as the name indicates, are deployed in long-range air battles where the pilots of the opposing aircraft cannot see each other. Examples of BVRAAMs are AIM-120 AMRAAM, R-77 (AA-12 Adder) and Meteor.

Surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) are launched from land or maritime platforms to engage and neutralise airborne targets such as aeroplanes, rockets or UAVs. Air defence systems, encompassing surface-to-air and anti-aircraft guns, commonly employ these sophisticated mechanisms. A few surface-to-aerial armaments include SAMs, anti-aircraft artillery and precision-guided missiles. Some examples of SAMs include the Patriot and the S-300.

Air-to-ground missiles are designed to destroy ground targets such as tanks, ships and buildings. Air-to-surface missiles possess advantages over bombs in terms of extended standoff ranges and rapid impact. However, they frequently exhibit a reduced warhead weight. Good examples are the anti-ship or land-attack Harpoon missiles, the air-launched Tomahawk cruise missile, the AGM-114 Hellfire and the Kh-25.

Air-to-sea missiles are designed to destroy naval targets like ships and submarines. Some examples of air-to-sea missiles include the AGM-84 Harpoon and the P-800 Oniks.

Anti-aircraft guns are designed to shoot down enemy aircraft flying overhead. Some examples of anti-aircraft guns include the Phalanx CIWS and the ZU-23-2.

MBDA’sMeteor, DRDO-Rafael collaborative Python-5 and DRDO’s Astra missiles
MBDA’s Meteor, DRDO-Rafael collaborative Python-5 and DRDO’s Astra missiles

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