Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Final Trial for Akash

Sorry for the absence. Back today with a special report from the new newspaper of the India Today group, Mail Today. Here's an interesting report by their defence correspondent Suman Sharma:

It's Testing Times for Akash Ahead

IT IS do or die time for a prestigious missile endeavour. In December, the country’s fully indigenous Akash missile system will be put through trials that will decide the programme’s future.After a quarter century in development and Rs 493 crore in costs, the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) is under pressure to prove and deliver the vital missile system.

Between November 3 and 18, Akash, a medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM), went through a series of low-key simulated tests with the Indian Air Force (IAF), its primary customer, at the Pokhran range in Rajasthan. Starting next month, the missile will undergo six firing tests from the Inner Wheeler island off the coast of Orissa’s Balasore district. If Akash fails to impress the IAF this time, the government is likely to invite foreign missile contractors to supply a technology bail-out to save the missile from total oblivion — a slap in the face of indigenous development.

The tests in Pokhran saw no actual firing of the missile. Real aircraft and helicopters were used to test target engagement, radar, fire control, target lock-on, command homing, overall system integrity, ground-air interface integrity and response time. Next month’s trials will test all parameters of the missile system, including launch, accuracy, impact, sensitivity, flight path and radar guidance.

An IAF officer who did not want to be named said, “This is definitely a make or break for Akash as far as the IAF is concerned. The wait has been too long. It has completely altered our planning processes for air defence. So if the missile does not perform now, and is not ready for flight service by late next year, then some drastic decisions will be required at the highest levels.”

The DRDO said the Pokhran tests went “smoothly”, but a review of the trial report is currently pending with the IAF leadership, which will be briefed by the test team before its observations are handed back to DRDO. This reading of the trials will be the final technical word on the Akash programme. Akash, with a range of 27 km, was first tested in 1990, with development flight tests up to March 1997. Operational tests and evaluations of the supersonic missile were completed in 2006 and it was expected to be inducted by the end of 2006.

It can attain a speed of 2.5 Mach during its flight and an altitude of 18 km. The missile is primarily being developed for the theatre defence role, in which missile batteries will be deployed to protect sensitive military or other establishments from an air threat, including aircraft, helicopters and unmanned craft. With its depleting fleet of obsolete Russian SA-3 Pechora and OSA-AK missile systems —which were inducted in the 1980s — the IAF pushed in for an indigenous ground equipment modification (GEM) a year ago. After the government refused to entertain Polish and Russian upgrade offers, the IAF is in desperate need of missile squadrons to plug holes in the air defence cover in the western sector. Of the 60 Pechoras bought between 1974 and 1990, only 24 are operational now. Last year, citing the delay in Project Akash and its sister programme Trishul as primary factors, the IAF placed a Rs 2,000 crore order for 18 Israeli Spyder surface-to-air missile systems.

Despite the Akash programme’s patchy record, DRDO chief M. Natarajan says, “The Akash missile system has been successful.” According to official testimony from the DRDO and the defence ministry, the Akash programme has been slowed down by the time taken to realise ramjet propulsion, the development of phased array target acquisition radar with command guidance, the development of a suitable platform for launch and American sanctions and embargoes which led to a crippling technology pull-out from the West.If Akash succeeds in the upcoming trials, it could be fully inducted into the IAF by early 2009.


Anonymous said...

Shiv, you promised the army GSQR on MBT2020. We are waiting...

devendra said...

Just another guy here, every time i pick up the paper it seems we are testing something or the other (weapons), and yet when ever Indian military photographs are seen all i see are imported items, all the reasons that i could follow through the net were the very same reason that are given to justify/explain rest of the naional scene.

How on earth are we going to make anything effective if we do not forcefully induct a product(low quality it may be) and improve it where it matters (on the field), i was born in 1982 and since then it seems all the projects are still in the test bed phase.

The Akash missile system should have been inducted in the AirForce and Army by now, with them breathing down on DRDO's neck to improve the system.

Is it just me or has logic taken a back seat?

Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, I'm afraid but the report by Mr. Suman Sharma contains some inaccuracies. Overall, the fulcrum of discussion of the article is that the blame lies on DRDO with implied meanings and assumptions of the IAF being correct always.

The first paragraph explicitly mentions Rs. 423 crores in development, in an attempt to convey what he perceives as high cost. The reporter may be reminded that 11.5 crores were paid immediately per Barak missile in 2000 (total of 200 missiles). Thus the 423 crores spent over a span of 25 years on the development of Akash is very small comparitively.

This warrants immediate attention : With a "peanuts" budget on indigenous weapon systems, only so much can be achieved. The "lions share" of the budget is spent on imports, thus keeping DRDO wanting for funds. This in turn results in delays and a further excuse to procure more imported hardware. In this way, the cycle continues.

Also, the IAF had in 2006, under the then Air Chief Mr. Tyagi had given assurances that Akash would be trailed in February of 2007, and that the IAF would negotiate with DRDO for the Trishul's parameters for user-trials. None of this has been done, whereas despite the fact that the IAF has already purchased SPYDER missile syatems from Israel after only a few tests held in 2005. The Akash has also had numerous successful tests over the years, where it has hit various types of targets (videos of 2 such tests are available on the internet).

Consider this :- the Barak had a 50% rate of failure since tests conducted between 1994- or 1996-2000 as per a note sent by the then Scientific advisor, Dr. Kalam to the defence ministry. Even after purchasing the Barak, the Navy has admitted to 2 failures in its own tests (one of which was witnessed by PM Dr. Manmohan Singh). Now, in contrast during the period of 2003-2006 the Trishul has had exactly 14 successful tests out of 20, but still the IAF/Navy refused to accept it.

This is followed by a hasty, quiet but firm interest shown in Delilah and Crystal Maze missiles from Israel, none of which have ever been showcased to the IAF.

The IAF has never been actively involved in the 23 years of development of either the Tejas combat jet, the Akash, Trishul, Dhruv and whatever hardware that concerns it. It is as though it is an "aloof customer". We may compare this to Pakistan, where the PAF played a managerial role in overseeing the development of the sin-pak JF-17 combat jet, even though as a member from BR forum rightly said that, "the JF-17 has not a nut & bolt of Pakistan's name".

Thank you.

Sam said...

what happened to Trishul and Nag System. Are they closed for ever