Buy the Akash. It is ours - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 28 August 2017

Buy the Akash. It is ours

Not only would this help the defence industry, but also message that the govt is serious about indigenisation

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Aug 17

Amongst the holiest cows in our cow-loving land is the notion of defence indigenisation — which means designing, developing, and manufacturing our own weapons and defence systems, as major powers all do for strategic and economic reasons. Successive Indian governments, especially the present one, have paid lip service to indigenisation in public and in Parliament. But, to illustrate how much more needs to be done, there is the example of the Akash missile system, which already defends Indian airspace.

The Akash consists of a Rohini radar that detects incoming aircraft at ranges out to 120 km and relays the information to a command post. This categorises and priorities the threats and orders a well-positioned missile launcher to shoot down specified targets. Meanwhile, a “command guidance” radar locks onto the target and guides one or more missiles onto the aircraft. The Akash has already demonstrated it can shoot down enemy aircraft, flying at treetop height, at ranges out to 25 km.

The simple and robust Akash was designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). The IGMDP was initiated in 1983 under Dr A P J Abdul Kalam when it became apparent that international technology denial regimes left India with no choice but to build its own missile systems by developing sophisticated technologies such as rocket propulsion and inertial navigation. The highly successful project birthed the Prithvi and Agni ballistic missiles that underpin India’s land-based nuclear deterrent; the Nag anti-tank guided missile and the Akash missile. While ballistic missiles are privileged children whose acquisition is guided by strategic considerations, and the Nag is only now coming to fruition, the defence ministry is sorely mistreating the Akash.

Consider the missile production eco-system that the Akash has created. After the DRDO developed the Akash’s foundational technologies, two defence public sector undertakings – Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) – have functioned as “systems integrators” that put the entire system together. Numerous private sector companies, notably Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division) and Larsen & Toubro, have developed crucial sub-systems like the missile launchers; while 330 smaller private firms feed into the Akash’s production as Tier-2 and Tier-3 vendors. Besides building the Akash systems that are already operationally deployed on the borders, these companies constitute a technology eco-system that continuously upgrade the existing system and will develop the next generation of missiles. This is the first time such a production eco-system has been built for an indigenous missile and nurturing such an eco-system is an obvious national interest.

But production eco-systems are nurtured with production orders. Today, the Akash production chain stands empty as the defence ministry haggles with BEL over the cost of its next order. Consequently, the induction of another eight Akash squadrons is held up by the ministry’s insistence that the Akash must match international prices. There is neither understanding nor acknowledgement of the difficulties that indigenous manufacturers face, nor of the benefits of an indigenous system.

From the start, the air force pooh-poohed the Akash, pressing instead for foreign-built missile systems whose complex electronics could easily be sabotaged with a kill switch that renders it ineffective against certain aircraft. In repeated trials up to 2004, the air force rejected the Akash for specious reasons, even as the missile repeatedly struck its targets. Eventually, in an incident in 2004 that has gone into DRDO folklore, the Akash project director, Dr Prahlada, readied the missile for a final do-or-die attempt to demonstrate its accuracy. A Nishant drone was flown, trailing a target sleeve that the Akash was to engage. But then, just as the missile was readying to fire, the sleeve detached itself from the Nishant and floated to the ground. With the air force evaluation team ready to declare the trial a failure and doom the Akash to oblivion, Dr Prahlada boldly designated the Nishant drone as the target. The Akash missile slammed into the tiny Nishant 20 kilometres away, utterly destroying the ~1.5-crore drone. Dr Prahlada had to field audit objections for years, but the Akash had proved its effectiveness against a target far smaller than a combat aircraft.

Why should the military buy more Akash, even if it costs more than equivalent foreign systems? There are at least five reasons. First, technology is generational and the current Akash will inevitably birth a more capable version. Already, the DRDO is developing a seeker head on a budget of just ~50 crore that will make the Akash more accurate and capable of longer ranges. Second, producing the Akash in India provides employment, a key aim of the Make in India programme. Third, buying Indian creates a multiplier effect at multiple levels of our economy, whereas buying a system from abroad puts the money into another economy altogether. Every company involved in defence production, every employee, is paying direct and indirect taxes into the economy. Fourth, facilitating the development of defence systems in India creates strategic intellectual property; the government needs to subsidise IP creation with orders, as is done by the countries from which India routinely buys. Fifth, Indian defence firms cannot be directly compared with foreign industry because the cost of doing business in India, especially working capital costs, are significantly higher — 14-15 per cent here, compared to 2 per cent abroad. Add to that the 33 per cent corporate tax levied on Indian defence firms and the cost of equivalent Indian products works out at least 30 per cent higher than an identical product built abroad.

That is why the General Financial Regulations mandate that, in government procurement, if a product with 50 per cent value addition in India is up to 20 per cent more costly than an equivalent foreign product, the Indian vendor must be given the contract at the lowest bid price. If the foreign vendor bids ~100 and the Indian vendor quotes between ~100 and ~120, the Indian vendor must get the option to supply at ~100. For defence products, with their strategic dimension, the Indian vendor must be given the option to supply at a rate that is up to 20 per cent higher.

Ordering more Akash systems is essential for the Indian defence industry. This is the first time an entirely Indian designed, developed, and manufactured product is being deployed in numbers. The Akash experience would teach us a great deal about the dynamics of mass production, maintenance and spares support and upgrading it to the next level. And it would constitute a clarion call that the government is serious about indigenisation. 


  1. It's probably a fallout of CAG audit of the system. I think India needs to improve heaps on post development production. PSUs have repeatedly failed on production quality and consistency of system. Probably private sector is India's best bet.

  2. Hi Colnel,

    What are your thoughts about the recent CAG report criticizing BEL for not properly and timely developing the missile storage facilities for Akash in the Northeast? It's frustrating that 7 years after the initial order the missile still hasn't seen permanent deployment in the Northeast due to inadequacies on BEL's part. There was also the issue of 30% of BEL-made missiles failing during testing, but seems that was only an issue with one batch in 2014.

    Overall, do you think the IAF and MoD are reluctant to order more missiles due to the manufacturer's poor performance?

  3. This is a really good article and very well articulated. I would like to know on a regular basis what is the GOI's stand on this.

  4. I cannot believe this is happening again. The concept of engineering to spec and economy of scale is apparently not understood by our decision makers. If there is piece meal orders there will be no support for the system and they will become white elephant. This is true of any engineered and mass produced product in the world. This is exactly what the defence establishment is doing to all our indigenous products. We need to scale up or we will be sitting ducks for ever.

  5. Indian Generals... can't Claim Higher Moral Ground... Indian Politicians... Both... molded... Corruption... Both... Sabatoge... Republic of India... security...

  6. Such clarity in your write up. Hope this reaches folks who are in charge of making decisions.

  7. Some bureaucrat or IFA in the Defence Ministry must be quoting some stupid rules. There being no Def Minister and with a first timer Def Secretary the Defence Ministry must be held to ransom by the Audit and Account guys!

  8. Indian defence wants everything from private players, blaming the PSUs of inefficiency. By the same token, I demand that Indian defence itself be privatized. Why have the govt shoulder this responsibility when the efficient (as the Indian defence claims them to be) private sector would do a far better job? Let's also hand over the PMs chair and the cabinet to private sector!

  9. Our armed forces should buy Akash. Then push for mk 2, ensure this 25-50% better. It is only continuos usage that can improve a product.
    same needs to be done for all local arms buy initial version keep fielding upgraded ones every 5 years or so.

  10. NSR says ---

    I know a thing or two about missiles of all kinds...

    India must keep developing all kinds of missiles like Israel instead of paying them huge sums...

    India must never give up on any missile it is developing, including, Akash, Nirbhay, Astra, etc
    They should even resurrect the cancelled naval air and missile defense missile...

    India must keep design and development for advanced missiles going on all levels...

    As some of these missiles become successful, their technology will populate the other missiles, for example, seekers, mission computers, fire controls, etc

    No one can fight a war with imported weapons...
    India must hurry up especially after Doklam ...

    Enemy only respects the superior arms, strength and firmness of mind...

    Just remember that two decades ago, Israel did not have any of missile defense technology...
    They used USA and Indian funds to develop all kinds of missiles...

    Stay steadfast to the objectives however what the cost is...

    Nirbhay is of utmost important...

  11. Nice Article but Is Akash missile really more costly than Foreign missile systems? An Akash missile costs Rs 4 crore each as per CAG report. While foreign missiles like Barak-8 will cost something like Rs. 20 crore each (estimated). Also as per official reports, the OFB programme to enhance production of Akash missiles to 500 missiles per annum from 150 per annum is running 4 years late and is likely to be be completed perhaps by end of 2018. The Cost of 7 Akash squadrons is Rs 5000 crore while 9 Barak Squadrons is around Rs. 20,000 crores.

  12. Sir, you have made extremely cogent arguments in favour of adopting and deploying the Akash as the default QRSAM across all theatres wherever required.

    However, one would like to draw your attention to the CAG report presented to the Parliament and an excerpt from the report cites -" Out of 80 missiles received upto November 2014, 20 missiles were test fired during April - November 2014. 6 of these missiles i.e. 30 per cent failed the test." It goes on to say " the missiles fell short of the target, had lower than the required velocity, and there was malfunctioning of critical units".

    Neither the IAF nor the manufacturing PSLs have commented on the CAG report publicly, and their silence is open to interpretations.

    One understands that several Akash squadrons are currently deployed in the East and NE and they are guarding Indian airspace from Chinese incursions. This makes the CAG report all the more noteworthy.

    So, the point is - it is imperative to have an impregnable air defence network protecting the national air space. If there is any iota of doubt about the Akash missiles, it is best to take them back to the drawing board. National defence cannot be compromised at the cost of 'Make in India'!

  13. Indian Army is simply too corrupt to encourage indigenization. India has 3rd largest army but can't even produce their own rifles.. they rather buy from Israel, a country smaller than all indian states!

  14. NSR says ---

    (Add)...Most of the missiles can be built and upgraded as long as the control elements - Solid Rocket Motor, thrusters, fins, etc are in good condition...

    Most common upgrades as a part of Spiral development of Block upgrades include the following most important elements -
    sensor (seekers and radars, etc) element hardware and software upgrades,
    guidance hardware and software upgrades,
    mission computers upgrades,
    fire control hardware and algorithms updates,etc

    So a missile configuration after 5 years or 10 years will be totally different, not to mention much better one...

    So India must not only design & develop, manufacture, but also do Spiral upgrades and Block upgrades as this method is cheapest and surest way to become a world leader...

    It will cost a fraction of the huge contracts written by India with arms merchants...

    No country can afford fight or depend on other countries to fight a WAR....

    So keep creating indigenous technology and infrastructure....

  15. A brilliant article by Col. Shukla, and one which calls a spade a spade. Also, the heroic antics by the DRDO Chief, Dr. Prahlada made for a pleasurable read. These are the unsung heroes that the nation doesn't know about.

    On the other hand, utter Fools like Kunal Gaikwad above should know that the Akash has passed many trials that a belligerent Army threw at it in the past. Now, if the CAG thinks that a 30% failure rate is bad, it must also look at the failure rates of Patriot missiles deployed globally, and do some benchmarking (it has the resources to do so).

    No one would vehemently press for the Akash's induction if it were under-performing, because it is imperative that security is paramount. We're pushing for it with vigour only after seeing it being rigorously tested. However, the IAF's arguments against it are so frivolous, that it is clear that a good indigenous system is being deliberately sidelined to make way for an imported system. Some vested interests are clearly at play here.

    It was good that the Akash was thrust down the throats of the IAF earlier -- thanks due in no less part to Dr. Prahlada. It is only in continuous service that the Akash missile can be improved upon and newer variants developed. In contrast, by throttling its induction in favour of imports, future incremental improvements will also be stalled. This will have a negative cascading impact on indigenous development of missile systems, as also our goal of 100% self-reliance in defence.


  16. Totally FAKE & PAID NEWS. Please see this link, totally debunking the above article :

    1) Akash-1 is neither simple nor robust. No electronics-intensive weapon system can be so. Compared to the Barak-8 MR-SAM, the Akash-1 is too complex & support logistics-heavy & its deployment footprint is complex as well. Barak-8 can easily be stored & deployed with far less complexity & all IAF air bases equipped with either EL/M-2084 or the DRDO-developed Arudhra for airspace monitoring can also be used for fire-control purposes—a flexibility not offered by the Rohini/Rajendra combination.

    2) Improved Akash-1 seekers & related data-links can easily be installed on existing Akash-1 missiles when the missile-rounds are up for relifing.

    3) Industrial (not technology) eco-system comprising Tier-2 and Tier-3 vendors are IDENTICAL for both Akash-1 & barak-8. Hence, choosing Barak-8 above Akash-1 isn’t a zero-sum game, nor will refusal to order additional Akash-1s will result in any job losses.

    4) Akash-1’s procurement costs are higher when compared with international benchmarks SIMPLY BECAUSE against all established global norms, 2 manufacturers—BEL & BDL—were designated as prime contractors & hence both companies had to field duplicated final-assembly/test-n-integration industrial infrastructure. Ideally, only BEL should been appointed as the sole prime contractor-cum-systems integrator.

    5) No one in India has ever used Nishant UAV as either a target vehicle or a target-towing vehicle. Use was always made of Lakshaya UAS.

    6) Kill-switches make sense only for Tom Clancy fanboys & are only meant for conspiracy theories.

    7) The Barak-8’s MR-SAM/LR-SAM variants are all ‘Make in India’ initiatives.The Barak-8’s IPR is jointly owned by DRDO & IAI.

    8) In conclusion, this is PAID NEWS, with payment coming from the BDL-BEL combine. Hence the factually-wrong financial slants given in that piece of spectacular yellow journalism.

  17. The chap above who is busy pontificating about paid news is likely just talking out of his hat himself. Barak-8 is basically completely dependent on Israel for radars and is far more expensive than a cost optimized Akash. Akash 1S is still in development. What talk if retrofitting seekers etc then? Before attscking Shukla, get some integrity. The suppliers for Akash and Barak-8 include BEL and BDL, so there goes that conspiracy as well.

    Kunal Gaikwaad, the 30 perc rate was becausr the missiles were stored improperly. Akash was tested after that and there gave been three years for BEL to resolve suppliers. So dont worry.

  18. Made in India Products are authentic and are now available worlwide.

  19. Please tell me cost of akash missile


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