NEW DELHI: There it is, the sound of another prestigious ‘Make in India’ product being blasted out of the sky. After 32 years and over Rs 1,000 crores later, the Akash missile system, crafted by India’s white elephant DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) to protect the country from possible aerial threats, has been declared a dud by the Indian Army. Now, the Army is shopping for a suitable alternative abroad by terming the indigenously developed missile ‘inadequate to meet the Army’s requirement in a desired time frame’.
The move not only exposes India’s missile defence vulnerability but also reveals the weakness in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet ‘Make in India’ push. To counter Akash, Pakistan has recently inducted its FM-90 air defence missile system, procured from PLA China, while on eastern front, China has HQ-7.
This also brings into the shadow the fate and capability of India’s missile programme worth over Rs 70,000 crore, and over a dozen missiles. It also raises the question of relevance and affordability of the country’s premier defence research agency whose only notable successes have been packaged pickles or neem-based vaginal contraceptive cream.
Army headquarters is in process of acquiring nearly 2,000 air defence missiles to raise its two regiments with an estimated cost of Rs 10,000 crore. On the basis of technical evaluation, three firms from Russia, Israel and Sweden are in competition to supply short-range missiles. In a reply to Express, Army headquarters claimed that the “targeted short-range surface-to-air missile (SRSAM) system is technologically and operationally superior to the Akash missile system, which DRDO took almost five years to develop.” Further, the cost of the targeted SRSAM project is 70 per cent of the Akash missile system.
In May 2015, Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag, while inducting two regiments of Akash missiles, had said: “It is a matter of great pride for the nation that today indigenous state-of-the-art ‘Akash’ air defence weapon system is being inducted into the Indian Army. The capability we have with this system will ensure that it takes care of vulnerability of our assets. Akash is a step towards self-realisation of indigenisation”.
Akash is an indigenously developed supersonic short range surface-to-air missile system with the capability to engage a wide variety of aerial threats like aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles up to a maximum range of 25 km and up to an altitude of 20 km.
The system, which has 96 per cent indigenisation, is capable of simultaneously engaging multiple targets in all weather conditions and is capable of providing comprehensive short-range missile cover to the vulnerable assets in the field force of the Army. Akash is one of the five core missile systems of the integrated guided missile development programme, launched by DRDO in 1984. The Army had initially ordered two Akash regiments, with six firing batteries of a project cost of Rs 19,500 crore. But in less than a year, it has changed its opinion on the home-made missile.
“The Army has proposed a composite approach of procuring SRSAM from globally and simultaneously technological improvement of Akash missile system,” Army headquarters told Express. When contacted, DRDO officials refused to comment on the army’s claim.