Ravi Sharma

Indigenously developed Akash is in the same class as the U.S.’ Patriot

It is expected to cost the exchequer relatively less than similar missiles

BANGALORE: The Air Force will soon place a production order for the guided, medium range surface-to-air Akash missile system.

With the process for placing the order with the public sector enterprise Bharat Electronics (BEL) already set in motion with the Ministry of Defence, official sources said the public announcement could be expected “within a matter of days.” This is the first time that the armed forces are placing an order for a wholly indigenously developed weapon delivery system of this complexity and class.

Developed by the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), the Akash, complete with its radars, mobile launchers, control centres, battle field management software and other support systems, will be utilised by the Air Force against aerial attacks, both in the form of aircraft and missiles. The initial order will be for two squadrons.

The Akash, which is in the same class as the U.S.’ Patriot, Israel’s Barak and the U.K.’s SAM, can destroy targets 25 km away, has a supersonic speed of 600 metres a second, and can intercept targets such as the Cruise missile and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Over 700 kg in weight and 5.78 metres long, the Akash is fired by solid propellants and can destroy multiple targets. It can be fired from both trucks and tracked vehicles. The indigenous missile is expected to cost the exchequer relatively less than similar missiles which are in the range of Rs.5 crore to Rs.6 crore each.

For the Air Force, which now deploys missile systems mostly of Russian vintage, the Akash will be a long overdue replacement, fructifying a good 21 years after the project was launched.

The delay had forced the defence forces to rethink elements of their air defence modernisation plans, with the Air Force even planning an order for the short range Spyder missile system to plug gaps in its air defence capabilities.

DRDL Project Director R.R. Panyam told The Hindu that the Air Force had “fully cleared the Akash after elaborate user field trials,” at the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur-on-sea in Orissa last December. He expects the two squadrons to be delivered to the Air Force in around three years.

Private partnership

Besides transferring the required technology in the form of documents for the Akash’s production to BEL, the DRDL will provide support from outside throughout the life cycle of the missile, which is expected to be 20 years. The production of the Akash is also expected to give a fillip to the fledgling Indian defence industry since BEL, which has the responsibility as the final integrator of the entire missile system, has already identified around 300 industries, a majority of whom are in the private sector, as possible partners for the programme.

Giving an indication of the public-private partnership, Dr. Panyam said that while the public sector Bharat Dynamics Limited would be integrating and testing the functionality of the actual missile after outsouring some of its sections, BEL will be manufacturing the radar and Larsen and Toubro or Tata Power Corporation producing its launcher.

He added that Larsen & Toubro and Walachand Nagar Industries could be manufacturing the missile’s rocket and ramjet propulsion systems.

The Akash’s next customer is expected to be the Army.