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India Bets Big On Indigenous Weapons; Set To Test-Fire Astra Mark 2 Next-Gen Missile This Year

India seems to be moving towards self-reliance in the defense sector at a faster pace as the country will test-fire its homegrown Astra Mark 2 beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) this year.

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Astra BVRAAM is reportedly capable of flying over four times the speed of sound, at Mach 4.5. Developed by India’s leading defense manufacturer, Bharat Dynamics Limited, the weapon will be able to strike enemy targets 160 km away.

“The trial for the Astra Mark 2 would be starting in the second half of this year and we are hoping to see the missile fully developed by 2022,” government officials have told news agency ANI.

Air Marshal SBP Sinha (Retd), who was associated with the Astra missile program, said the next-gen missile is expected to be operational by next year.

The report has come at a time when India is pushing self-reliance in the defense sector. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said recently that attaining self-reliance in the manufacturing of defense equipment is a crucial factor for maintaining India’s strategic autonomy.

Contrary to the perception that India will not get support from foreign companies due to its self-reliance program, the foreign defense companies are complying with the government’s initiative. Many companies are signing contracts for joint production with Indian companies.

Recently at the Aero India Show, Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems signed a pact with the Hyderabad-based Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) for the joint induction of an anti-torpedo defense system.

The pact between Rafael and BDL entails advanced technology transfer and the use of indigenous content sourced from India. Eli Hefets, corporate regional director, India, of Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, had told business daily Mint that the company is fully committed to India and deeply involved in its defense and technology endeavors.

He said: “The joint induction of SHADE (anti-torpedo defense system), which was announced at the show, is part of Rafael’s commitment to the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliance) initiative of the Government of India”. Rafael has consistently supported indigenous manufacture through its offset ventures, Hefets said.

Last year, in the backdrop of the military stand-off with China, the Indian government had pushed the concept of self-reliance or Atmanibhar Bharat to reduce dependence on other countries. In August 2020, under the same initiative, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh had announced an absolute ban on the import of 101 defense equipment.

The banned equipment included simple parts and high technology weapons systems such as artillery guns, assault rifles, corvettes, sonar systems, transport aircraft, light combat helicopters, and radar arrays.

The ministry had said that contracts worth almost $53.354 billion (Rs 4 trillion) will be transitioned to domestic production within the next five to seven years. India is also looking forward to exporting defense equipment to other countries.

The defense minister has said: “India is ready to supply various types of missile systems, LCA/helicopters, multi-purpose light transport aircraft, warship and patrol vessels, artillery gun systems, tanks, radars, military vehicles, electronic warfare systems, and other weapons systems to IOR nations.”

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