First Akash missile system to fill gap in air defence - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 22 November 2010

First Akash missile system to fill gap in air defence

Right: Vehicle-mounted sub-systems of the IAF's first Akash squadron, nearing completion at BEL, Bangalore. The first Akash squadron will be deployed at Gwalior Air Base by March 2011.

Left: An Akash missile launcher, with dummy missiles, on display at Defexpo 2010 in New Delhi.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Nov 2010
BEL, Bangalore

With crucial Indian defence and nuclear establishments and vital infrastructure facilities open to an enemy air strike, many in India’s military consider the shortage of anti-aircraft guns, missiles and radars as our single greatest security vulnerability.

For two decades, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has blocked overseas purchases, to allow the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) to indigenously develop anti-aircraft missile systems for replacing the obsolete Russian weaponry currently dotted around key headquarters, air bases, atomic power plants, nuclear installations and facilities like the Bhakra Nangal dam.

It has been a dangerous gamble. If war had broken out, the ineffectiveness of these Russian systems, especially the 50-year-old Pechora missile, would have forced the Indian Air Force (IAF) to use its combat aircraft more for defending Indian ground forces against enemy fighters than for attacking targets in enemy territory.

But that gamble is finally beginning to pay off, with India’s first modern air defence system readying to roll off the assembly line. On an exclusive visit to Bharat Electronics (BEL) in Bangalore, Business Standard was given the first-ever media look at an operational Akash missile system, which will be delivered to the IAF by March 2011. This first Akash squadron will protect the Gwalior Air Base, where the IAF bases its Mirage-2000 fighters.

BEL will follow this up quickly with a second Akash squadron by December 2011, which will safeguard Lohegaon Air Base at Pune, a major base for the front-line Sukhoi-30MKI fighters. Meanwhile, another defence public sector undertaking, Bharat Dynamics, will build six more Akash squadrons, most of these for the IAF’s new fighter bases along the Sino-Indian border, including Tezpur, Bagdogra and Hasimara.

“BEL is building two Akash squadrons for Rs 1,221 crore,” says Ashwini Datt, BEL’s Chairman and Managing Director. “The ground infrastructure would cost another Rs 200 crore, so each squadron effectively costs about Rs 700 crore. That is not just significantly cheaper than foreign procurement, but also permits better maintenance and allows for continuous technological improvements.”

DRDO and MoD sources say the Indian Army is close to ordering a high-mobility version of Akash, mounted on T-72 tanks, that can move alongside tank forces. One of the army’s three strike corps, which attack deep into enemy territory, has no anti-aircraft “area defence system”; the other two strike corps are equipped with the vintage Russian SA-6, designed in the early-1960s. This makes them dangerously vulnerable to enemy fighters if they advance deep into enemy territory.

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

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

Meanwhile, the flight’s four Akash launchers raise their missiles to the launch positions and swivel automatically towards the incoming aircraft. At the calculated time of launch, the Flight Control Centre electronically passes a launch order to one of its four launchers. An audio signal starts beeping and the missile operator presses the launch button, which is quaintly labelled “MARO”. A “ripple” of two missiles roars off the launcher, seconds apart, to increase the chances of a hit. The 3D radar guides the missiles throughout their flight, homing them 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 to Business Standard for some time, but can only now be publicly revealed, with the induction of the Akash remedying the situation. The number of installations that need protection – each is termed a Vulnerable Area (VA) or a Vulnerable Point (VP), depending upon how large it is – has steadily increased. In a letter written on December 4, 2002, to the MoD, the IAF’s Air Marshal Raghu Rajan pointed out that a study by the military’s apex Chiefs of Staff Committee, ordered by the 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 to be well above 150.

Without the anti-aircraft resources needed to protect these VAs/VPs, the outdated Pechora missiles, which began service in 1974 with a designated life of nine years, have been granted repeated extensions. The Russian manufacturers extended the life to 15 years; when they refused any further extensions, the DRDO extended it unilaterally to 21 years. By 2004, only 30 Pechora units of the 60 originally imported were 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 no longer be provided anti-aircraft protection. The IAF’s top officer wrote: “By 2004… terminal defence of VA/VPs would be only notional… We need to import minimal number of systems to meet our national defence needs.”

Seven years later, the roll-out of the Akash from BEL will begin to fill this gap


  1. Did not quite understand the arithmetic of 1200 Cr + 200 Cr = 700Cr!

  2. The TATA trucks in the photo look hopeless, with their petrol tanks exposed like pigs belly, any saboteur with a sniper rifle (of whom there is no dearth in India) can easily blow these missiles to smithereens, even before an enemy attack is detected. I somehow feel the command centers too would be inadequately protected. I sense DRDO & BEL and others don't really "think" about their designs, they just read text-books and try to make hack systems. Sad to know MoD is so shameless to keep nation under-defended. No wonder when the real attack comes in, our brave armed forces drop whatever shit they are provided in the name of weapons and run like hell to save their lives. Not because they are not brave or their weapons are antiques, but because they would have lost hope in the leadership which put them in such a situation.

  3. A bit disappointed that the tractor for the IAF version is still a fragile totally unprotected civilian unit.Why could it not have been a rugged and protected one.A suitably modified BEML-TATRA 8X8,10x10 or the TATA 8X8 would have been a much more suitable vehicle for both Army and IAF.

  4. This is great news!

    Ajai do you have any info on the development of Akash MKII?

  5. Excellent news...

    Only if Akash missiles could be produced at the rate of rabbits.

  6. What does one mean by the following: "BEL will deliver two Akash squadrons....while BDL will build six more Akash squadrons"? Who will deliver what? The guided-missiles, the launchers, the 3-D CAR, BSR and BLR? Going by how the story has been written it would appear that both BEL and BDL will 'build' identical systems, meaning that there are two operational production lines for the entire Akash SAM system. Or is the operative term meant to be 'prime contractor', with BEL being the systems integrator?
    And what's with the facination with NATO designations of weapons of Soviet origin? Can't the SA-6 be referred to as KUB or Kvadrat?
    The dangerous shortage of India’s air defence resources has been public knowledge since early 2002 when OP Parakram was underway. And it is not just about the Army's lack mof land-mobile area air defence systems, but also about the IAF's lack of medium-power airspace surveillance radars, the contract for which is likely to go to ThalesRaytheon.

  7. Much of the information in this article is extremely disturbing. We live in a far too complicated and elevated security environment to take such gambles. I hope that such gambles are an exception and not norm across various layers of security setup that we have in place to protect our country.

  8. Ajai,there is one thing that perplexes me. Why did DRDO choose to mount the AF version of this missile on a tractor-trailer combination. Wont this setup limit system mobility to only highways and flat hard terrain? I do not reckon seeing a system like this before.

  9. IF we have more than 150 weak-spots in out air defense, why are we ordering a paltry six systems getting delivered over a couple of years? We must make a move on and give them some big orders so that they can set up a big manufacturing supply chains and create aksah in large numbers.....

  10. Finally We have our own systems in place , that looks more positive situation. Hope our PSU's stand upto the challenge and deliver the systems on time to plug the gaping holes in our air defence.

    Kudos to Akash Team to develop a world class system.Had a Look at the system on it's official site .

    Ajai Sir can we know the status of other systems like Spyder, Python 5 which were supposed to be imported from Israel. I request you to post more on that front.

  11. I wonder why everyone seems to want to protect static air bases with an AD system mounted on high-mobility vehicles! Are the Gwalior and Pune air bases about to suddenly up and move?


    If 1200 Cr + 200 Cr is the cost of two systems, my math tells me that 700 Cr is the cost of each.


    Two parallel Akash lines, one in BEL, the other in BDL.

    You write: "And what's with the facination with NATO designations of weapons of Soviet origin? Can't the SA-6 be referred to as KUB or Kvadrat"

    You're right, it could. And then someone could write, "what's the fascination with Soviet designations? Don't you know the Soviet Union is history...?"

    Besides, Kvadrat is also the designation of the T-72M1 land navigation system. Could get confusing...

    You write: "The dangerous shortage of India’s air defence resources has been public knowledge since early 2002 when OP Parakram was underway."

    I'm sure everyone had a general idea. But I don't recall reading in the public domain the kind of specifics that this article lays out.


    All 150 VAs/VPs are not going to be defended by the Akash. You might recall, there are other anti-air missiles under development too. E.g. MR-SAM... SR-SAM... etc.


    Defence is all about gambles and calculated risks. I am not justifying leaving vital installations unprotected. But, conceptually speaking, you can never provide the country with foolproof security.



  12. what? thought we have more than 150 vulnerable areas/points, akash systems are being produced at the rate of 1 every 9 months by bel?all i can say is wow!keep it up fellas.

  13. To Anon@10.51 & ArjunTankFan: The Dvina V750VK, S-125 Pechora and OSA-AK were and are all riding on motorised, not tracked, vehicles. One cannot therefore insist on the Akash (IAF variant) being mounted on rugged all-terrain vehicles or even tracked vehicles, which are more suited for cross-country travel--something the IAF's Akash-equipped squadrons will never engage in. The BEML-TATRA trucks are far worse off than the TATA-made trucks, since the so-called indigenised models rolling out from BEML are, till this day, all left-hand drives! Try asking BEML how exactly does it define indigenisation and ToT!

    To Broadsword: I'm afraid your explanation about "two parallel lines" still doesn't clear the confusion. Are you saying that BEL will build and assemble the Akash missiles for the first two squadrons, while BDL will build and assemble the Rohini 3-D CAR and Rajendra BLR radars for the six follow-on squadrons? Or will BEL, as prime contractor, procure the missile rounds from BDL and then handle final assembly and systems integration, while BDL (for the six follow-on squadrons) will in turn procure fully-assembled radars and command-and-control/comms systems from BEL and become prime contractor/systems integrator for this follow-on batch? I'm asking this because it makes no financial sense for two independent prime contractors to be created (with parallel assembly lines for the same product) for a single system which is being ordered in such limited quantity.
    The specifics on the dangerous shortage of India’s air defence resources were publicly highlighted and detailed in a special report aired by NDTV in the first week of October 2006, and it also identified the vulnerable Strike Corps as being the XX1 Corps. In fact, the number of VAs and VPs is closer to the 300 mark when one includes the land-based installations of the Army and Navy, and of course now the SFC. The exact figures have been available with CAPS and CLAWS as open-source materials for more than five years.

  14. Mr.Ajai ,
    Does india has idea to go for S-400 SAM for longer range protection .

  15. Dear Mr. Shukla,

    Thanks for the wonderful

    The only thing lacking in the article was comparison of Akash to other SAMs around the world and how Akash would match-up with them.

    Please do let us know about the details of Akash as well.



    PS:If there is any grammatical mistake in my post let me know.( Ha Ha..)

  16. Seems MOD's calculated risk taking is for a reason.... like what is the garantee we import patriot3,5../iron dome/david's sling/barak-8,2/spyder... and as if all has a master key (and if it exists), it won't be turned off at a crucial moment of our country... nullifying all the posturing in one go??? ... (since Govt took such a huge gamble at very crucial phase of our economic transition...)

  17. Akash is coming just in the nick of time. Congrats to the DRDO for developing it. Congrats to the IAF and the IA for having the sense to order it.

    I've heard that it's a world-class missile system (ECCM, etc.). The fact that it's inexpensive is very important because India has to counter the threat from large numbers of inexpensive Chinese cruise missiles.

  18. "The dangerous shortage of India’s air defence resources has been known to Business Standard for some time, but can only now be publicly revealed"

    Was it a CIA type classified secret, that U were privy to?

    Quote from BR:

    [Yep! Business Std.'s "sniffer doggies" found out what the whole world has known for a decade+! Neverthless,a good piece]

    Laughing out loud....

  19. Prasun:

    Let me simplify things for you about the assembly lines.

    There will be two parallel assembly lines for the Akash: one at BDL and one at BEL. The reason for two parallel lines, is (a) firstly, a single line cannot produce the Akash as quickly as two lines; and (b) there is a strategic rationale for having a second line as a backup to the first.

    As you well know, sometimes it is not about economics.

    As far as the individual pieces of equipment go, they will be produced for both lines by whoever is doing it. For example, BEL Ghaziabad will produce the Rohini radar for both lines. BEL Bangalore will produce the 3D phased radar for both lines. BDL will produce the missiles for both lines. Etc, etc, etc.

    The NDTV report on VAs/VPs that you cite was done by me. It did not contain many of the details that I am now releasing.

    CLAWS and CAPS have not, to the best of my knowledge, released the exact figures of VAs/VPs. Do post a link if they have.

    Your figure of 300 VAs/VPs is irrelevant to any discussion of the Akash. It is important not to drag in tactical ground targets, like army corps and div HQs and artillery gun positions --- which are protected by tactical air defence weapons which are on the orbat of army formations --- with strategic and operational targets like, say BARC, or Bhakra Dam, which need to be catered to from a separate pool of resources.

    The latter is where the figure of 150 comes from.

    Trust that clears up matters?

    When you cite a figure of 300

  20. To Broadsword: It does clear up matters immensely now, many thanks.

  21. Prasun@20:45
    I am not having a problem on the IAF SAM being a wheeled and not a tracked unit.The point that I am trying to make is that the Akash is towed by a civilian tractor.It does not appear to be even all-wheel drive ,what to talk about rugged suspension,high ground clearance.The SAM units you were referring to as 'motorized' were all rugged vehicles and high clearance vehicles. The OSA- AK with 6x6 drive was amphibious and air-transportable.The Ural vehicles on the Pechoras are also 6X6 units with excellent cross-country mobility.Same is the case of the towing tractor of the Dvina.The thing,i venture to repeat is,how can a missile unit,which is to be deployed as per any contingencies,have such a basic tractor attached to it.I would also submit that being 'left hand drive' should have no effect on the TATRA's or any other vehicle's cross-country mobility.

  22. Why could it not be mounted on truck such as this?

    This is the MIM-104 Patriot.
    Military Grade Tractor unit:

  23. Will Akash will only protect static locations and never be cross-deployed?
    A military asset(and a very expensive one) needs to be versatile and mobile.IN any all out war Pakistan (and China?)will be attacking us constantly.How can we assume that these assets are just going to be static at one place.May they not be needed in other areas as the situation may evolve. Will they always get smooth roads and crater free locations,will they not face slush,mud within a large base itself.I will submit that any military asset has to fully capable to be deployed to meet any unpredictable scenario as far as possible.The is COTS at its cheapest.Such a system deserves far better.Its always better to have the capability and not need it rather than the other way around.And frank decent mobility and ruggedness is a sin-qua-non for any military vehicle.

  24. Business Standard = BS = Bullshit!

    See for yourself:

    India to built two test ranges of electronic warfare systems


  25. To Broadsword:

    Pls disregard my last post because I found out that my son has messed it up (even with Live Fist too)

    Sorry for that...

  26. hmmmmm..... just read somewhere that india was secretly sold s-300 systems a long time back.... even the wiki page mentions india could have s-300 or older systems... don think only sa-6 wud be trusted for so long..

  27. To Anon@10.32: I guess from an aesthetic standpoint, other TATA-made high-mobility vehicles would have been the preferred solution, but in the case of the IAF's Akash, there's simply no operational need for a high-mobility vehicle since the Akash will not be deployed as far away as even 30km away from the static VA/VP it is supposed to defend.

    To Anon@11.48: That's right. The IAF's Akash versions will NEVER be cross-deployed with any other end-user. That is precisely why the Army's Akash variant uses the T-72M as the missile launch vehicle and carrier of the Rajendra BLR, while almost all motorised support vehicles are of the BEML/Tatra 8 x 8 type. The question you need to ask is: is the IAF's Akash/Rohini 3-D CAR variant air-transportable?


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