NEW DELHI, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The Indian army is set to order an unspecified number of Akash anti-aircraft missiles to replace its aging Russian SAM-6 Kvadrat air defense missile system.
The missile system is for the T-72 main battle tank and has a Hyderabad-developed Rajendra phased-array radar capable of tracking up to 64 aircraft simultaneously over a radius of just under 40 miles. It can shoot down aircraft within 15 miles, according to Indian media reports.
The Akash is part of India's Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. Its main target will be use against attacks from unmanned combat aerial vehicles including Cruise missiles and aircraft.
The order is another win for the BEL consortium set up in January 2008 by two Indian public sector companies -- Bharat Dynamics Ltd and Bharat Electronics Ltd. -- and which included private-sector firms specifically to manufacture the medium-range Akash missiles.
BEL tied up with Larsen & Toubro, Tata Power, Walchand Industries and ECIL. But Bharat Dynamics is the actual manufacturer of the solid-fuel, two-stage, ramjet Akash missile.
BEL signed its first major order in January this year when the Indian air force placed an order for two squadrons of the missile, according to a report in the national newspaper The Hindu.
The newspaper also noted that the Indian air force had had performance reservations about the missile. Specifically, the air force wanted a smaller, lighter missile with a longer range and that was more maneuverable, according to The Hindu. The missile also does not have a seeker, but batch-by-batch improvements and enhancements are planned.
Analysts have said that one Akash missile has an 88 percent probability of kill. But two missiles fired five seconds apart raises this to 98.5 percent. The payload is reportedly around 140 pounds.
The Akash has been developed by the Defense Research and Development Laboratory, which will oversee the weapon system integration and provide support throughout the missile's 20-year lifecycle.
The missile is in the same class as the U.S. Patriot, Israel's Barak and the U.K. SAM system, the article said. It is around 19 feet long, weighs 1,550 pounds and travels at nearly 2,000 feet per second, according to India's Business Line newspaper.
The air force's missiles are being delivered over three years.
Development of an indigenous defense missile has taken around 20 years, and criticism of the project has been harsh at times because of this.
Similar criticism has been leveled at the Defense Research and Development Organization over development of the Arjun Tank, of which the army only recently agreed to take 124 examples to replace some of its older Russian-made T-90 tanks.
The Arjun has been 35 years in the making, and getting the first batch operational has been a battle in itself, lasting a decade, according to a report in the Hindustan Times newspaper last May.