Defence Ministry signs deal of Astra Mk-I missiles worth ₹2,971-crore


In a big boost to India’s push for self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector, the Union ministry of defence on Tuesday signed a ₹2,971-crore contract with Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) to equip the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy with the Astra Mk-I beyond visual range air-to-air missiles and associated equipment. The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) has transferred technology to BDL for the production of these missiles and associated systems.

The missile has been fully integrated with the Su-30 fighters and will now add to the capabilities of other combat planes such as the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft, officials said. Astra will be integrated with other fighter jets in a phased manner. The Indian Navy’s MiG-29K fighter aircraft, which operates from India’s sole aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, will also be equipped with the missile.

“Till now, the technology to manufacture missiles of this class indigenously was not available. Astra has been indigenously designed and developed by DRDO based on the staff requirements issued by the IAF, catering for beyond visual range (BVR) as well as close combat engagement, and reducing the dependency on foreign sources,” the ministry said in an official statement. This is the first major order for the Astra missiles, which were contracted in small numbers last year under emergency procurement, amid the ongoing border standoff with China in the Ladakh sector, officials said.

The development comes at a time when the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis has exposed India’s overwhelming dependence on imported weaponry, especially from Russia, and underlined the need for speeding up the indigenisation drive to become self-reliant.

BVR capability allows fighters jets to shoot down hostile aircraft from a significant standoff range, while at the same time staying out of the adversary’s air defence envelope. The Astra missile is technologically superior and cheaper than many similar imported missile systems, the ministry said.

“This project will act as a catalyst for development of infrastructure and testing facilities at BDL. It will also create opportunities for several MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) in aerospace technology for at least 25 years. The project embodies the spirit of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat,” it added. It’s a big leap towards achieving self-reliance in the missile segment, said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies. “We have been dependent on Russian and Israeli missile systems for long. The local production of the Astra missile fills a critical gap in indigenous capabilities,” Chopra added.

India has over the past two years imposed a phased ban on the import of 310 different types of weapons and systems to boost self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector.

These include light weight 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, specified types of helicopters, next-generation corvettes, and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) systems.

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