First Operational Akash missile system, Will be Delivered by March 2011

India’s first modern air defence system readying to roll off the assembly line.  Bharat Electronics (BEL) in Bangalore, will deliver operational Akashmissile system,    to the IAF by March 2011. Thisfirst Akash squadron will protect the Gwalior Air Base, where the IAFbases its Mirage-2000 fighters.
BEL will follow this up quickly with a second Akash squadron byDecember 2011, which will safeguard Lohegaon Air Base at Pune, a majorbase for the front-line Sukhoi-30MKI fighters. Meanwhile, anotherdefence public sector undertaking, Bharat Dynamics, will build six moreAkash squadrons, most of these for the IAF’s new fighter bases alongthe Sino-Indian border, including Tezpur, Bagdogra and Hasimara.

“BEL is building two Akash squadrons for Rs 1,221 crore,” saysAshwini Datta, BEL’s chairman and managing director. “The groundinfrastructure would cost another Rs 200 crore, so each squadroneffectively costs about Rs 700 crore. That is not justsignificantly cheaper than foreign procurement, but also permits bettermaintenance and allows for continuous technological improvements.”

DRDO and MoD sources say the Indian Army is close to ordering ahigh-mobility version of Akash, mounted on T-72 tanks, that can movealongside tank forces. One of the army’s three strike corps, whichattack deep into enemy territory, has no anti-aircraft “area defencesystem”; the other two strike corps are equipped with the vintageRussian SA-6, designed in the early-1960s. This makes them dangerouslyvulnerable to enemy fighters if they advance deep into enemy territory.

The Akash – developed by the DRDO, in partnership with BEL, under theIntegrated Guided Missile Development Programme – is a sophisticatedamalgam of systems working in concert. The heart of the Akash is amobile Rohini radar, which can detect an aircraft when it is 120kilometres (km) away; automatically, a coded electronic interrogatorascertains whether this is an IAF aircraft, or a civilian airliner.With the target identified, the Rohini radar alerts the Akash squadronheadquarters, which then controls the engagement.

As the enemy fighter races in at about 15 km per minute, the task ofshooting it down is allocated through a secure digital link to one ofthe squadron’s two missile “flights”, which are normally about 25 kmaway, to cover the maximum area. The designated Flight Control Centrelocks its sophisticated 3D phased-array radar onto the enemy fighterand calculates the launch parameters for an Akash missile to shoot downthe target at its maximum range of 25 km.

Meanwhile, the flight’s four Akash launchers raise their missiles tothe launch positions and swivel automatically towards the incomingaircraft. At the calculated time of launch, the Flight Control Centreelectronically passes a launch order to one of its four launchers. Anaudio signal starts beeping and the missile operator presses the launchbutton, which is quaintly labelled “MARO”. A “ripple” of two missilesroars off the launcher, seconds apart, to increase the chances of ahit. The 3D radar guides the missiles throughout their flight, homingthem onto the enemy aircraft. The DRDO claims that a two-missile“ripple” will destroy an enemy fighter 98 per cent of the time.

The dangerous shortage of India’s air defence resources has been known  for some time, but can only now be publiclyrevealed, with the induction of the Akash remedying the situation. Thenumber of installations that need protection – each is termed aVulnerable Area (VA) or a Vulnerable Point (VP), depending upon howlarge it is – has steadily increased. In a letter written on December4, 2002, to the MoD, the IAF’s Air Marshal Raghu Rajan pointed out thata study by the military’s apex Chiefs of Staff Committee, ordered bythe Cabinet Secretariat, had identified 101 Indian VAs/VPs in 1983.That went up to 122 in 1992; to 133 in 1997; and is now understood tobe well above 150.

Without the anti-aircraft resources needed to protect these VAs/VPs,the outdated Pechora missiles, which began service in 1974 with adesignated life of nine years, have been granted repeated extensions.The Russian manufacturers extended the life to 15 years; when theyrefused any further extensions, the DRDO extended it unilaterally to 21years. By 2004, only 30 Pechora units of the 60 originally importedwere still in service.

On January 15, 2003, the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy,wrote to the MoD saying that 60 per cent of India’s VAs/VPs could nolonger be provided anti-aircraft protection. The IAF’s top officerwrote: “By 2004… terminal defence of VA/VPs would be only notional… Weneed to import minimal number of systems to meet our national defenceneeds.”

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