A mock-up of the anti-ship missile buster, LR-SAM, also referred to as the Barak 8
By Ajai Shukla
The eponymously named Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), being co-developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), is already two years late. Now, because of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, the delay will get longer.
Business Standard has learnt that four LR-SAM rocket motors, built in India and despatched to Tel Aviv for trials, have been lying in Seoul, South Korea, for close to one month.
The DRDO confirms that the rockets, filled with highly combustible propellant, were despatched on a commercial airline, Korean Air, for trials in Israel. After the rocket motors reached Seoul --- Korean Air’s global hub, from where they were to be routed onwards to Tel Aviv --- the launch of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza on July 8 caused Korean Air to cancel all flights to Tel Aviv. Fighting intensified after Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza on July 17.
Consequently, a crucial and secret sub-system of the world’s most advanced anti-missile defence system has been languishing in a Korean Air warehouse in Seoul.
The LR-SAM’s rocket motor and propellant, along with its rear section, fall in India’s work share in the joint DRDO-IAI project. This crucial component, built by Hyderabad-based Premier Explosives Ltd, will be integrated in Israel with the IAI-built front section, and then tested at an Israeli range.
DRDO chief, Dr Avinash Chander, told Business Standard that it was not unusual to despatch missiles as commercial cargo, or through shipping agents.
“We didn’t think it necessary to sent the rocket motors on an Indian Air Force (IAF) flight. But now we may do a rethink and use an IAF aircraft. We are monitoring the situation,” said Chander.
This is only the latest delay in the LR-SAM, which began co-development in 2006 and was to be ready by 2012 to protect a new generation of Indian warships from sea-skimming, anti-ship missiles at ranges out to 70 kilometres. First there was delay due to Israel’s preoccupation with its “Iron Dome” missile shield; intended to intercept rockets fired at Israel from Gaza. Now, even after international flights to Israel resume, uncertainty hangs over the tests.
The LR-SAM is one of the navy’s most worrying operational vulnerabilities. On Aug 16, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissions INS Kolkata in Mumbai, the navy’s most vaunted destroyer will have empty canisters where the LR-SAMs are to be housed.
This will also be true of INS Kochi and INS Chennai, the second and third vessels of the Kolkata-class, which are expected within a year. Similarly, the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, which was delivered by Russia last year, also awaits the LR-SAM.
All these warships have been fitted with the radar and canisters that are a part of the LR-SAM system. The development of the missile has faced glitches, but will be delivered by end-2015, predicts the DRDO chief.
“These rocket motors are going to Israel for full homing trials, at shorter ranges. After that, the missile will be fired from actual naval warships,” says Chander.
This is not the first missile fiasco in South Korea. India Today reports this week that a Pragati surface-to-surface missile that was sent for display to South Korea’s Aerospace and Defence Exhibition (ADEX-2013) last October, lay unguarded at a South Korean port for nearly a month after missing its ship back to India.