It is shocking and saddening that the Indian Army has found fault with the Akash missiles produced by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). This follows field trials that lasted a year. When the missiles were inducted last year, the Army hailed them virtually as spectacular specimens of indigenisation. Today it says the missiles are “inadequate to meet the Army’s needs in a desired time frame”. With this, a question mark has arisen on the DRDO programme on which 32 years and hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent.
The Army cannot afford to remain without a fool-proof missile defence system, particularly when Pakistan has acquired the FM-90 air defence missile system procured from China. On the eastern front, it cannot ignore the HQ-7 missile systems in Chinese hands. This has forced the Army to look for targeted, short-range surface-to-air missile systems technologically and operationally superior to the Akash missile system. It has already shortlisted three such systems available from Russia, Sweden and Israel. It would cost about `10,000 crore which would be only 70 per cent of the cost of the indigenously developed missile systems. Indigenisation is one thing and quality quite another. Unless weapon systems are qualitatively superior, they cannot meet the threat from across the border. The failure of the Akash missile system has raised a question mark on the whole missile programme of the country. True, people know that every now and then missiles are successfully test-fired. Beyond that they do not know whether the tested missile flew in the direction it was sent and hit the target with the desired effect. If it fails on either or both of these counts, it cannot be described as a success.
It is not the first time that DRDO has come under a cloud. There have been complaints of it missing targets and failing to deliver on the parameters specified. Indigenisation is also aimed at minimising the outgo on imports but if the indigenously produced systems are costlier, it defeats the very purpose of indigenisation. This calls for a thorough review of the DRDO’s projects and programmes. It will be a major setback for ‘Make in India’ if the Army has to shun Akash missiles and import better ones. Be that as it may, the needs of the Army take precedence over all other considerations.