Indian Air Force gets its first Indo-Israeli MRSAM: the air defence missile - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 9 September 2021

Indian Air Force gets its first Indo-Israeli MRSAM: the air defence missile

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 10th Sept 21


In a significant boost to India’s air defence capabilities, the Indian Air Force (IAF) was handed over its first Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM) system on Thursday, in the presence of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, at Jaisalmer. 


The MRSAM provides protection against incoming enemy aircraft and tactical missiles. It is called a “network centric combat air defence system” and has been designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). 


Such is the military’s and DRDO’s confidence in this missile that it was operationally deployed in secret, even before it completed development. This was in September 2016, when the army was planning “cross border strikes” against Pakistan to avenge the killing of 19 Indian soldiers near Uri. 


Pakistani retaliation was expected against a key IAF base, which was protected only by aging Soviet-era missiles. To fill this gap, the IAF’s first MR-SAM unit, which was still being built in Hyderabad by Bharat Dynamics Ltd, was quietly airlifted to the vulnerable base – a vote of confidence based on recent firing trials. And when Indian commandos crossed the LoC on the night of September 28, 2016, the MRSAM was poised for operational use.


About 20-30 per cent of the MRSAM has been developed by the DRDO, including the missile’s propulsion system that is based on a sophisticated dual-pulse rocket motor, its thrust vector controls, and electrical harness (wiring).


IAI has designed and developed 70-80 per cent of the MRSAM, including the Elta MF-STAR radar, which forms the heart of the system.


This is the only missile that all three services have enthusiastically acquired. The naval version of the MRSAM, which is called the LRSAM (Long-Range Surface to Air Missile), is stored in, and fired from, sealed canisters below warship decks, in order to protect the missile from the corrosive marine environment. The LRSAM primarily protects Indian warships from sea-skimming, anti-ship missiles.


So far, the LRSAM has been operationally deployed only on three Indian Navy destroyers -- INS Kolkata, Chennai and Kochi. Each carries 32 missiles in “vertical launch unit” canisters. Now the LRSAM is being fitted on four more destroyers being built under Project 15B and seven frigates being constructed under Project 17A.


The IAF version of the MRSAM is mounted on trailers, and is fired from the open at enemy fighters coming in to attack air bases and other high-priority targets. The army version of the MRSAM protects ground troops from enemy ground attack aircraft. Army MRSAMs are mounted on high-mobility vehicles that keep up with tank columns moving cross-country.


All three versions of the missile are identical, except for the software that controls their “self-destruct” function. The sea-skimming LRSAM self-destructs simply by pitching its nose down and plunging into the sea. The MRSAM, which would usually be used over land, is required to “pitch up” before it self-destructs, scattering the debris and avoiding inadvertent damage.


The MRSAM is expensive, with each missile costing about Rs 6 crore. But the DRDO and the military point out that is reasonable, given that it shoots down sophisticated fighters costing hundreds of crore; and protects warships that cost thousands of crore.


All three versions of the MRSAM are built around a highly sophisticated central radar called the Multi-Function Search and Track Alert Radar (MF-STAR). This detects incoming enemy aircraft and missiles when they are well over a hundred kilometres away. The system fires a missile and then guides it to the target, intercepting it at ranges out to 70 kilometres.


In addition to the MF-STAR, the MRSAM system comprises of the missiles themselves, a combat management system, mobile launcher systems, mobile power system, radar power system, a reloader vehicle and a field service vehicle.


During the handing over ceremony in Jaisalmer, there was a live firing of the MRSAM, as part of the “On-Site Acceptance Test (OSAT),” stated the defence ministry.


Rajnath Singh lauded the joint efforts of DRDO, IAI and industry partners in designing and manufacturing what he termed “one of the best, state-of-the-art missile systems in the world”.


The MRSAM contract was signed in 2009, but has been severely delayed by complex technological challenges. A report in May 2016 from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence stated that the MRSAM project had been delayed by four years.


In another report in March 2017, the Standing Committee put the cost of the MR-SAM project at Rs 10,076 crore. The DRDO’s share was Rs 1,680 crore, while the remaining Rs 8,396 crore was committed by the IAF towards the guaranteed purchase of missiles and other systems.

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