NEW DELHI — India’s Defence Ministry on Tuesday awarded a $424.4 million contract to state-run Bharat Dynamics Limited to supply locally developed Astra MK-I air-to-air missiles, paving the way to end the country’s dependence on foreign beyond-visual-range weapons.

Under the contract, Bharat Dynamics will supply about 400 Astra MK-I missiles and associated equipment, to be delivered in four years for the Air Force and Navy for use on Su-30MKI, LCA-MK and MiG-29K aircraft.

The missile is expected to reduce India’s dependency on Russian R-77, French MICA and Israeli Derby beyond-visual-range missiles. “The project essentially embodies the spirit of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ [’Self-Reliant India’] and will help facilitate the country’s journey towards self-reliance in air-to-air missiles” the ministry said in a statement.

The missile is locally designed and developed by the government’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, and it underwent successful tests with Air Force Su-30MKI fighters in different configurations.

The ministry noted transfer of technology from the government organization to the company for production of the Astra MK-I and all associated systems is complete, and that production at Bharat Dynamics is already in progress.

The single-stage, solid-fuel missile is 3.8 meters (12.47 feet) long and weighs 160 kilograms (352.74 pounds). It also carries multiple conventional warheads that weigh a total of 15 kilograms.

A senior DRDO missile scientist told Defense News that the 100-kilometer-plus range weapon is now equipped with a fully indigenous terminal guidance system based on radio-frequency technology used for tacking targets. The scientist spoke on the condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak to the media, added that the weapon is capable of engaging and destroying highly maneuverable supersonic aerial targets with high accuracy.

The scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity over a lack of permission to talk to the media, noted that an earlier version of the Astra missile was developed with Russia’s help, and it had carried the Agat 9B-1103M active radar seeker and radio proximity fuze detonation mechanism.

However, An Air Force official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said Astra MK-1 can only achieve an operational range of up to 60 kilometers and is too bulky. The Air Force wants the missile’s weight reduced by 50 kilograms, he added.

According to DRDO’s website, the Astra weapon “is designed to engage and destroy highly manoeuvring supersonic aircraft” and can operate in all weather, day or night.

Bharat Dynamics will produce the Astra MK-I in Bhanur, southern India, at its new 632-acre manufacturing facility, which was established in 2017 and cost $74.5 million to make.

Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.

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