A line drawing of the proposed LR-SAM (courtesy LiveFist blog)
By Ajai Shukla
Missile Complex, Hyderabad
When the Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM) enters service with the Indian Air Force (IAF) this month, it will have taken 30 years for the missile to have been developed and built. Shaken by this delay the navy and the IAF have sponsored a new development model for their next-generation missiles, which will see the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) moving away from indigenous technology development, and operating instead as a project manager. Effectively, the DRDO has been handed the coordination role that was traditionally played by the defence ministry (MoD)
Senior DRDO managers who briefed Business Standard during an exclusive visit to its missile laboratories in Hyderabad said that that DRDO has been handed control of the budget for the IAF’s futuristic Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MR-SAM); and the navy’s advanced Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM). This amounts to Rs 10,075 crore for the MR-SAM, and Rs 2,606 crore for the LR-SAM.
From this budget, DRDO has signed technology development contracts with Israeli companies, especially Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), for many of the new systems that will power these SAMs. The DRDO, too, will develop certain sub-systems, but its key responsibilities are: technology coordination; involving manufacturing partners from Indian industry so that manufacture can begin without delay; putting in place key infrastructure; and working out the users’ requirements of spares and logistics systems so that manufacturing orders can be place holistically.
The DRDO has often complained that excellent systems built by it have been devalued by poor production, notably the Arjun tank, which is built by the Ordnance Factory Board at Avadi, Chennai.
“For the first time in a major programme, the DRDO will be involved in production of newly-developed systems. We will factor in the production phase right from the beginning, looking at the facilities required on the IAF bases where the missiles will be deployed, the maintenance requirement, the spares management, etc. We will calculate the entire life-time requirement right from the beginning, so that we can take consolidated figures to the sub-contractors, who can then gear up for the production,” says Subir Kumar Chaudhary, who is managing the MR-SAM programme.
This model was proposed by the military, especially the navy, which wants the LR-SAM for its four new Kolkata-class destroyers, seven proposed Project 17A frigates, and the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), which is being built in Cochin Shipyard. Many current warships are protected by the Israeli Barak missile, which has a range of just 10-15 kilometres and can shoot down only the current generation of anti-ship missiles, like the Harpoon and the Exocet. The LR-SAM has a range of 70 kilometres, according to scientists from the Defence R&D Laboratory (DRDL), who are developing the missile, and will be manoeuvrable enough to shoot down the next generation of anti-ship missiles.
Senior naval officers told Business Standard anonymously that, rather than risk lengthy developmental delays by going it alone, as the DRDO did in the Akash project, it was prudent to back a joint developmental project with Israel, cutting down developmental risk. Such a joint model was not possible when the Akash was being developed, because of tight international sanctions.
Like the navy with the LR-SAM project, the IAF backed the MR-SAM project with funding. “The IAF has funded 90 per cent of the project, while 10 per cent is funded by the DRDO for the development phase of the MR-SAM,” says Chaudhary.
Ironically, joint development with Israeli companies has not eliminated delay. The LR-SAM, which began development in Jan 2006, was to be delivered to the navy in Oct 2012. But the first LR-SAMs will not be delivered before early 2014. Meanwhile, three Kolkata-class warships that were to be fitted with them are held up, incomplete in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL). The shipyard is hoping for launchers (without missiles) to be delivered soon, so that construction can continue. The missiles could be delivered subsequently, even after the Kolkata-class destroyers enter service with the navy.
The IAF is funding a far more expansive contract for the MR-SAM. Signed in March 2009, the contract is for 18 fire units (each equipped with 24 missiles) that must be delivered by October 2016. Each fire unit comes with a radar, three missile launchers, and a sophisticated Combat Management System. Since a missile has a limited shelf life, additional orders for missiles will continue to be placed as they are consumed.
The MR-SAM uses the same missile as the LR-SAM, with a range of 70 kilometres, to protect its air bases. The ground infrastructure, however, is far more complex. The Akash missile, which is currently entering service to protect IAF bases, has a range of 25-30 kilometres.