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DRDL to develop Astra missile

M. Somasekhar

Hyderabad , June 16

INDIAN defence scientists have embarked on a Rs 1,000-crore national project to develop Astra — the beyond visual range (BVR) class of missile that would be capable of beating radar eyes and hitting enemy targets located at ranges up to 80 km distance.

The Union Government had recently okayed the futuristic project, which will be guided and led by the Hyderabad-based Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL), according to its Director, Mr Prahlada.

The indigenously developed Astra missile is estimated to cost Rs 3-5 crore. It would be at the high-end of tactical missiles, and propel India into the exclusive club of countries (the US, Russia, France and Israel), to possess such missiles, Mr Prahlada told Business Line.

The development phase of the missile would be taken up in a consortia led by DRDL. Several missile labs, public sector units such as HAL, ECIL and a good number of private companies would be involved in the fabrication of important components and systems integration, Dr Prahlada said.

Project Astra signals a continuum in the two-decade old Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), which has seen the development of five different missiles — Agni, Prithvi, Trishul, Akash and Nag, gone through several ups and downs and is now in a consolidation phase.

Encouraged by the technical and systems integration expertise gained in the programme, the laboratory is confident that the Astra missile can be developed and delivered to the user in six years. Astra will weigh 150 kg, making it the lightest in its class.

The US has a similar missile but heavier, while Israel also has a BVR, but the range is comparatively shorter. The first flight of the Astra is slated for the end of 2004 from the Interim Test Range in Balasore.

The missile can be launched after receiving a signal from the far away target and it will seek and home-in using a complex range of on-board manoeuvres based on radio frequency (RF). Efforts would be made to interface it with the Light Combat Aircraft.

Mr Prahlada said: "The Indian missile programme is now confident of delivering a quality missile to the stringent requirements of the user (Indian defence forces) and there was no need to look for imports, which were fraught with problems. Indigenous missiles are cheaper, can be easily maintained, technologically upgraded, features which are not possible in imported ones".

Interestingly, for the Astra project, interest from some advanced countries and multinational corporations to join hands has been forthcoming. However, a decision on this has to be taken at the highest level in the Union Government.

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