Missile test an urgent step towards defending IAF bases - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 1 July 2016

Missile test an urgent step towards defending IAF bases

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st July 16

On September 6, 1965, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) launched its first major air attacks into India. Ranging freely across the border, PAF fighters attacked multiple Indian Air Force (IAF) bases, destroying (according to Indian accounts) ten Indian fighters on the ground in Pathankot, damaging another three, and downing two IAF fighters protecting Halwara air base. The next day, another 12 Indian fighters were destroyed on the ground in Kalaikunda air base, in West Bengal. The IAF remained on the back foot for the rest of the 1965 war.

The likelihood of another such debacle receded on Thursday, with the successful test firing of the eponymous medium range surface to air missile (MR-SAM) off the Odisha coast. Jointly developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) of Israel, the MR-SAM detects incoming enemy aircraft while they are well over a hundred kilometres away and destroys them at ranges out to 70 kilometres.

Broadly, the DRDO has developed the propulsion systems of the MR-SAM, while IAI has developed the radar and guidance systems. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that Indian and Israeli experts were present at the test today, in which the missile detected and destroyed a pilotless target aircraft.

This will be welcome news for the IAF, which still protects its air bases with vintage Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles that should have retired decades ago, and with the DRDO’s Akash missiles that have an inadequate range of 25 kilometres. In the modern concept of “layered air defence”, short range missiles like the Akash are responsible only for close-in defence, while longer range missiles like the MR-SAM engage hostile aircraft at longer ranges.

The MR-SAM project is a twin of the Indian Navy’s Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM) project, also being developed by the DRDO-IAI combine. While the key missile and guidance technologies and the missile capabilities are identical, the MR-SAM is a ground-and-vehicle based missile, while the LR-SAM is being deployed in warships.

In tandem with the LR-SAM, the MR-SAM is late by years, partly because of the cutting-edge technologies they incorporate. In March 2009, the IAF signed the contract for 18 fire units (each equipped with 24 missiles), which were to be delivered by October 2016. But with just the first test having been concluded, it will take at least another two years for the first MR-SAM batteries to enter squadron service.

Each self-contained fire unit includes a radar, three missile launchers, and a sophisticated Combat Management System. Since the missiles themselves have a limited shelf life, orders for missiles will be placed incrementally, as they are consumed in training, testing and operations.

When Business Standard visited the DRDO’s missile complex in Hyderabad, officials stated that the IAF had funded 90 per cent of the MR-SAM’s development cost of Rs 10,075 crore. The DRDO funded the remaining 10 per cent.

In an unusual arrangement, the DRDO did not just carry out technology development of the MR-SAM, but effectively functioned as the project manager. Officials confirmed that that the DRDO was handed control of the development budget, and asked to develop private industry partners who would assist in the development of MR-SAM sub-systems, and also manufacture those when it entered commercial production.

Acknowledging their contribution, a defence ministry statement today said: “Many Indian industries like BEL (Bharat Electronics Ltd), L&T (Larsen & Toubro), BDL (Bharat Dynamics Ltd), Tata group of companies, besides other private industries have contributed to the development of a number of subsystems which have been put into use in this flight test.” 

After the test today, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar congratulated the DRDO and the industry partners, while the DRDO chief, Dr S Christopher, declared the test a major milestone for the IAF’s air defence.


  1. "The likelihood of another such debacle receded on Thursday".
    The above line in the article is too dramatic and totally inaccurate. Ajai Shukla purports to suggest that all IAF bases are left unprotected!! IAF has used SA-6 and Pechoras SAMs against incoming hostile aircraft since the 70s; more recently it even acquired Akash. The Barak 8 is definitely better, but it's misleading to suggest that what happened in 65 would be repeated until Barak 8 MR-SAM is inducted.
    Even if Ajai Shukla thinks that none of the SAMs deployed currently are effective, then the risk hasn't really receded on 'Thursday', as Barak 8 hasn't yet been inducted into IAF!!!

  2. India has a long way to go in terms of missile development and successfully building a defence layer with it. Pakistan missile development is much more competitive and sophisticated than its other arsenal capabilities. Even the brahmos (apparently not inducted by Russia) has an equivalent in chinese armory (CX-1) which may soon be expected in the pakistan defence forces hand.

  3. You are speaking of layered air defense and still don't know it's concept. Just check how a squadron of Akash Missile system can protect large swathe of area by deploying them in a distributed system. Anyway long range missile is always welcome.

  4. Where... ToT...

  5. Article has been intentionally dramatised to bring in the importance of MR-SAM. Was not really needed as folks who are aware of missile developments know the value that MR-SAM brings to the table.

    The next question that comes to mind is how is the multitude of SAM missiles in the IAF inventory will be managed? Akash with a 25-30 km range. MR-SAM with 70 km range and LR-SAM in future with 100 km range.

    On a related topic, how much attention is being paid to inducting MMRCA class aircraft...we are desperately short of 8-10 squadrons of such aircraft.

  6. Guys come on, give some credit to the author, a blogger writes with the intention to inform, express opinion and also for the joy of sharing with readers. There is no need to egg around, the reader needs to be able to separate inform needed from the ones that are not needed, at least the article gives some good details with joy of reading added. You have the opportunity to add to it, however not at the cost of the author and his blog. Feedback is appreciated, but when you enjoy it, don't just rant because there is a column. Political opinions are different.

    Sorry! while I express difference of opinion as well, could stop myself saying this.


  7. This missile system is a great force enhancer and is desperately needed across all services. With the Navy and air Force inducting this quickly, some thought on induction for their strike corps could be considered


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