India to boost its Akash missile arsenal

NEW DELHI, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Bharat Electronics expects to win around $3.3 billion worth of contracts for the surface-to-air Akash missile system in the next several months, a company official said.

The order from the Indian air force and the army could amount to around 300 of the defensive guided-missiles, P. C. Jain, general manager of BEL's military radar business unit, said.


"They are going to place another order for six squadrons shortly," said Jain.

A squadron consists of 48 missiles, a surveillance 3-D central acquisition radar, a tracking radar and a flight-control center. BEL, based in Bangalore, already has an order from the air force for two squadrons of Akash missiles.

Akash -- Sanskrit for "sky" -- is a medium-range system and a product of India's integrated missile development strategy that includes short-range and long-range missiles.

The Akash, developed jointly by the government's Defense Research and Development Organization, Bharat Dynamics and Bharat Electronics, can be fired from tracked and wheeled platforms and has a range of around 15 miles with a payload of up to 35 pounds.


The air force already had around 1,000 of the missiles and the army is in the process of finalizing the configuration of its version.

Last June, the army officially announced its intention to substantially boost its numbers or Akash missiles to replace its Russian SAM-6 Kvadrat air defense missile system. It could spend up to $2.8 billion on the Akash system, which would be positive to India's defense manufacturing base, a military official said at the time.

"In the next seven to eight years, close to 100 Indian industries will benefit from these projects," he said. "Project support for the services for these systems will be there for 25 years.

"It is a great wealth-generation opportunity, in addition to more jobs as a home-grown tactical missile system is finally getting on top in place of the French, Russian, British and Israeli systems. This will give DRDO the much-needed lift and the Indian industry know-how to manufacture complicated weapon systems."

Production of the Akash has been through a consortium set up in January 2008 by public sector companies Bharat Dynamics and Bharat Electronics. Other private sector firms include Larsen & Toubro, Tata Power, Walchand Industries and ECIL. But Bharat Dynamics is the main manufacturer of the solid-fuel, two-stage, ramjet missile.


India's strategy has been to develop indigenous missile systems but delays in manufacturing has caused supply problems.

The third-generation surface-to-surface NAG missile, with a 2.5-mile range, has been 20 years in development and is on the verge of entering production.

But in August, India announced it is considering buying thousands of Javelin anti-tank guided missiles, made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, from the United States until the NAG is fully developed.

Defense Minister A. K. Antony told Parliament that a letter-of-request had been sent to the U.S. government for a direct foreign military sale of off-the-shelf Javelin missiles. Included in the letter was a transfer-of-technology request that could mean the man-portable Javelin is made under license in India.

Antony gave no indication of numbers of missiles needed, nor of numbers to be made in India. The Javelin order could run into the thousands until the first, vehicle-launched version of the NAG, meaning "snake" in Sanskrit, is inducted into the army in 2011.

India's missile program suffered a setback in September with a launch failure of the surface-to-surface Prithvi-II ballistic missile. It failed to lift off the pad during a trial in Chandipur, Orissa.

"The failure to lift Prithvi-II was due to a snag either in the main missile or the sub-system, including the launcher," a Defense Research and Development Organization spokesman said.


The test was conducted at the integrated test range, 140 miles from the Orissa state capital Bhubaneswar.

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