The Union ministry of defence signed a $2,971-crore contract with Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) on Tuesday to equip the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy with Astra Mk-I beyond visual range air-to-air missiles and associated equipment, a major boost to India’s push for self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector.
BDL has received technology from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the production of these missiles and accompanying systems.
Officials said the missile has been fully integrated into Su-30 fighters and will now enhance the capability of other combat planes like the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft. Astra will be gradually merged with other fighter jets. The missile will also be used by the Indian Navy’s MiG-29K fighter jets, which are based on India’s lone aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya.
“Until now, there was no technology available to build missiles of this class in-house.” “Astra has been conceived and built in-house by DRDO based on the IAF’s crew requirements, catering for beyond visual range (BVR) as well as close combat engagement, and decreasing reliance on foreign suppliers,” the ministry said in a statement.
Officials said this is the first big order for the Astra missiles, which were contracted in small numbers last year as part of an emergency procurement programme in response to the protracted border impasse with China in the Ladakh sector.
The move comes as the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis has highlighted India’s heavy reliance on imported armament, particularly from Russia, and highlighted the need to accelerate the indigenisation push to become self-reliant.
BVR allows fighter jets to fire down hostile aircraft from a significant standoff distance while remaining outside of the adversary’s air defence envelope. According to the government, the Astra missile is technologically superior and less expensive than several similar foreign missile systems.
“This project will serve as a catalyst for BDL’s infrastructure and testing facility growth.” It will also provide chances in aerospace technology for multiple MSMEs (micro, small, and medium businesses) for at least the next 25 years. It goes on to say that the project exemplifies the ethos of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat.’
It’s a significant step toward missile self-reliance, according to Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general of the Centre for Air Power Studies. “For a long time, we’ve been reliant on Russian and Israeli missile systems. The Astra missile’s local production fills a significant gap in indigenous capabilities, according to Chopra.
To strengthen self-reliance in the defence manufacturing industry, India has put a phased ban on the import of 310 different types of weapons and systems during the last two years.
Lightweight tanks, naval utility helicopters, artillery guns, missiles, loitering munitions, missile destroyers, ship-borne cruise missiles, light combat aircraft, light transport aircraft, long-range land-attack cruise missiles, basic trainer aircraft, multi-barrel rocket launchers, assault rifles, sniper rifles, specific types of helicopters, next-generation corvettes, and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) systems are among the items on the list.