The launch of the Astra missile for the second day on Saturday from Chandipur, Odisha, was deadly in its accuracy. An air-to-air missile, it was launched from a fixed launcher on the ground and homed in on its target — Lakshya, a pilotless target aircraft (PTA) flying 15 km away. The warhead exploded within a metre of Lakshya, destroying it. On Friday also, the launch from the ground against an electronic target was successful. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which has developed the missile, conducted both the launches. Friday’s launch was to test propulsion, control and guidance systems.

Avinash Chander, Chief Controller (Missiles and Strategic Systems), DRDO, who watched the launch, described it as “excellent” and said it was “a major breakthrough because the problems encountered in the earlier flights were overcome.”

Asked what snags were overcome, he said: “We had some technical problems relating to the control structure. We made changes in the systems’ configuration and we have overcome the defects.”

“We are now readying the missile as per the user’s [the Indian Air Force’s] requirements”, he said.

In the latest launch, the 3.8-metre long and more than 300 kg heavy Astra flew at Mach-3 — three times the speed of sound.

Another DRDO missile technologist said the flight “went off well and all the events occurred as per requirements.” Astra would be flight-tested again on Monday.

Three more flights in 2013

There will be three more flights from the ground in 2013. After that, it will be launched from different aircraft such as Sukhoi-30, MiG-29 and the Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas.

Astra can hit targets flying 40 km away, that is, beyond visual range. If an enemy aircraft were to fly close, it will be registered in the aircraft that carries the missile. If the enemy was to fly 20 to 40 km away, the cockpit instruments cannot register it. Only radar signals will be received. Astra can adjust its speed to that of the enemy aircraft and home in on it.

2012 a rewarding year

Mr. Chander said 2012 had been a rewarding year for the DRDO in its missile launches. They included the maiden successful launch of Agni-V in April, followed by flight-trials of Agni-I, II, III and IV, Prithvi-I and II, Dhanush, two highly successful interceptor missile launches, the BrahMos flights and the Long Range Surface-to-Air flights. “In missile capability, we are upfront. We have made a tremendous mark,” he asserted.

“We have achieved major successes in launching a variety of missiles in 2012. We are confident thé we will make further strides in missile development in 2013.”