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SOURCE: RAUNAK KUNDE / NEWS BEAT / IDRW.ORG

Tender documents asking for interesting vendors to submit their bids have revealed for the first the time preparation that has are underway to carry out minor modifications on four of the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets belonging to the Indian Air Force (IAF) that will be used to fast track the developmental and trials phase of the Astra Mk2 Beyond-Air-to-Air Missile (BVR-AAM) by 2022.

A longer and bigger Astra Mk2 based on the experience gained on perfecting the Astra Mk1 BVR-AAM has ensured that the missile will be ready for induction from 2023 onwards, as it will offer a range of 160km+ for the first time in any air to air missile for the airforce. Mk2 will be using a dual pulse rocket motor initially developed for the Indo-Israeli MR-SAM Air defense system for the extended range and to sustain higher speed at its end game while it carries the same Indigenous Ku-band seeker that has been developed for the Mk1.

Russian Agat 9B-1103M active radar seeker was used for the pre-production lot of 50 Astra Mk1 ordered by the IAF, but 200 ordered in the second batch will have Indigenous Ku-band seeker, while Navy has ordered same with 48 units for its Mig-29K fleet. Indigenous Ku-band seeker was tested on Astra Mk1 last year and it is better than the Russian Agat 9B-1103M active radar seeker used on the framed R-77 BVR-AAM with a homing range up to 30km and offers high resistance to external Jammers.

DRDO and IAF learning from its Mk1 experience have decided to expand and fast track developmental trials of the Mk2 program by going for a pre-production lot of 25 missiles to be used specifically for the trial phase and by making available more aircraft. idrw.org has been told that for Mk1 only Two Su-30MKI were made available to be used as Testbed for the program but as the entire fleet of the Su-30MKI has now been cleared for Astra Mk1, IAF wants faster availability and integration for the entire fleet for the Mk2 as well.

Tejas and Mig-29 Next

After successful integration on the Su-30MKI fleet, now groundworks have begun to integrate it on LCA-Tejas Mk1 and Mig-29UPG/K fleet by 2023-24 as more and more jets will get the new Indigenous air to air missiles. Mirage-2000 integration is also on the card but it might require some source code and software updates to its present Fire control Radar that might require some French Assistance. While IAF is mum on possible integration on the recently acquired Dassault Rafale that might see stiff resistance from the French side that is keen to promote its upcoming MICA NG (New Generation), while Expensive Meteor BVR-AAM remains Top of the chain for the Dassault Rafale fleet it still needs cheaper alternatives so interest remains to make it happen for both Astra Mk1 and Mk2.

Export Push

Many countries have expressed interest in the program and India has started to offer Astra Mk1 to selected few countries who are very keen on it. idrw.org has been told Vietnam has been offered Astra Mk1 for its Su-27 and Su-30 fleet, while UAE has been offered for its Mirage-2000 fleet

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