NEW DELHI: Prompted by Pakistan’s growing air defence arsenal, the Army is now sprucing up its stores and acquiring air defence guns after a gap of three decades. Majority of the systems on the Army’s air defence inventory are either obsolete or nearing obsolescence, as the last air defence guns, which are meant to provide an ‘umbrella’ for the Army’s static assets from an aerial object, were procured in early 1980s.
In a letter dated March 12, 2012, the then Army Chief General V K Singh had warned the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the country’s security was at risk by pointing out that 97 per cent of the air defence inventory was ‘obsolete’. Now, the Centre has decided to strengthen the Army’s air defence with planned induction of a wide array of sophisticated radars and missile systems at a cost of over Rs 20,000 crore. The Army is all set to launch two units of the indigenously developed ‘Akash’ surface-to air missile. The Army and the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), which produced the missile system, are looking for a suitable date for the ceremony. Officials sources claim that since the project is the first in line of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘ Make in India’ initiative, the Ministry of Defence(MoD) wants to make the launch a mega event. The ministry is in touch with the PMO and wants the Prime Minister to be present on the occasion.
Army sources also confirmed that the both these units will be strategically located along the Western border with Pakistan to provide air defence to military assets. Later, they will be deployed along the Eastern sector at the Line of Actual Control(LAC) with China.
Akash can target an aerial object or aircraft up to 30 km at an altitude of 18,000 m. Though the IAF version of this missile system has already been inducted, the Army’s version of Akash supersonic missile will be capable of flying at more than twice the speed of sound, according to defence officials. The heart of the Akash is the ‘Rohini’ radar that can detect an aircraft located 120 km away. This mobile missile system will be mounted on Tatra vehicles to provide a high degree of speed and mobility.
“Akash air defence system is fully autonomous with the capability to handle multiple aerial targets including very low- flying ones,” said an official. Though the DRDO says Akash, developed jointly by the DRDO and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), has a 98 per cent hit probability, the project has gone through a lot of hiccups, say defence analysts.
Akash was primarily developed for the Army to replace its vintage Kvadrat system, bought 40 years ago, and was intended to provide air defence cover to the fast-paced manoeuvres of mechanised forces on the move like tanks or heavy artillery. But during trials, the missile system failed miserably to hit the target accurately while mobile. Officials said it led to delays but to avoid embarrassment, the MoD had decided to induct the surface-to-air missile into the IAF to replace its vintage Russian Pechora missiles as static version in 2012. The IAF did not require mobility and only needed to further beef up the layered air defence of static vulnerable areas such as its airfields and hangers from enemy aircraft.