Akash Squadron Ready!!

Ok, while everyone's still fuming about what Praful Bidwai had to say about DRDO, some shining news for the organisation itself! Chief of Air Staff Fali Major said last afternoon that the IAF now on course to induct its first ever squadron of the Akash surface-to-air missile. According to the couple of reports that appeared today, the air defence exercise report will be reviewed once, after which the squadron will be raised somewhere in either Rajasthan or Punjab. Each squadron will have sixteen launcher batteries.

But everything else aside, and counting the still lumbering tracks of the Trishul and Nag, a big, big congratulations to the Akash team. I don't know if the extra heat of the last two years helped push them to the finish line -- some people argue that it is certainly a factor in things looking up so suddenly and in unanimously. Let's not carried away though -- there's much work ahead for the rest of the IGMDP, and it would be a waste if DRDO just rested on its Akash laurels and danced the afternoon away -- something it has done in the past, with disastrous effects. It should now quickly rescue the Nag and Trishul (the latter is already on the path to being bailed out with foreign help) from oblivion.

In the course of the DRDO series which I did for the Express almost exactly a year ago, I remember how ferociously people in the IAF would react when they were asked about the Akash. This programme's delay was singularly responsible for huge planning delays, massive imports, and critical gaps in air defence cover as a result of inadequate sanction for imports. I spoke to those same people this morning, to ask them how things had changed so suddenly for the programme. They said that both sides decided to cut their losses and focus on trouble-shooting the system, instead of playing the blame game. They took a lot of stuff back to the drawing board, and came back with a clear mind. The problems that they finally sorted out were pretty darn fundamental in the event, which is why solving those with a clean mind helped speed the programme along immeasurably.

There will be teething troubles, but I think the worst is over. Again, a big congratulations! Now for the Akash's first export!

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