The then Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh had warned almost three years ago that Indian Army’s air defence system has become obsolete. This was a startling admission coming from the Chief of Army Staff, who is generally not supposed to reveal such shortcomings openly on such sensitive issues relating to the actual position of the existing armaments.
However, it is now known fact that he was just stating the truth as India lacks many air defence mechanisms even to protect the main cities of the country in case of any emergency or deadly attack.
The Indian cities are very poorly protected from short range rockets or missiles which are likely to be fired from across the border by the terror groups or even by the Pakistan army during an undeclared war.
An on the top of it, India has not been even able to acquire the Very Short Range Air Defence Missile, for it is very critical for protection of major cities and ports of the country.
The existing stock of the Very Short Range Air Defence Missile has become extremely obsolete, almost four decades old and neither the government nor the army headquarters considered it appropriate to forcefully raise the issue.
Even after open revelation by the then army chief over lack of sufficient VSHORADs, still the Army Headquarters and the MoD are confused over its induction. The Request for Proposal for acquiring these Short Range Missiles were issued way back in March 2011 and still the army headquarters has not yet indicated the stage of the acquisition process.
The trials of these VSHORAD have been conducted and the MoD seems to be sitting over the recommendatory files as is the case with other weapons acquisition program. The new government at the Centre will now have to consider the fast acquisition of these vital defence systems considering the security situation in and around the country.
These Very Short Range Air Defence Missiles are considered extremely vital for the defence of any major city or any strategically important location. The present stock with the Indian Army like the Air Defence Guns L-70 and the ZU-23 are over four decades old and hence totally obsolete. The Air Defence Missiles like the SA-2 have also lost its relevance in view of the modern day fighters equipped with latest defensive systems. Also the radar network of the armed forces is also not modern enough to aid and guide the air defense missiles to tackle the incoming enemy fighters or helicopters.
India’s quest for a modern air defence system is still continuing and the new government will naturally take its own time to give the green signal for the acquisition.
The bids for acquiring the VSHORAD systems were released long ago as the Army Headquarters had to raise alarm over the state of affairs in Indian Army. However the Army is yet to reach any final conclusion over this acquisition process, which will be a long drawn out process as and when the decision is finalized.
Whoever wins the contract for almost over 5000 Short Range Missiles worth Rs 27,000 crores will be a big gainer. Since the amount was finalized three years ago the new government will certainly have to revise the allocation for the deal. The Field evaluation trials are over and the new defence minister will have to give the go ahead for price negotiation with the L1 vendor, which has not yet been revealed.
The ongoing deal
There were six contenders shortlisted for the mega deal of the Indian Army which included the Swedish SAAB produced RBS 70, the French MBDA Mistral, Thales Star trek system, Korean LIG Nex 1 Company produced Chiron, the Russian IGLA-S and Israeli Iron Dome.
The Iron Dome’s performance in the defence of Israel from the Palestinian militants have been well publicized and the Indian government, which at the moment seems to have been very much impressed, might explore in future the further opportunity to acquire the system.
With a view to grab the huge order from Indian armed forces the Swedish SAAB has entered into a strategic alliance with the Kalyani Group for the joint production of its system RBS 70 NG (Next Generation) along with technology transfer. This will alleviate the issues of offset regulations as the entire lot of over 5000 short range missiles can be sourced from India as Indian product.
According to Kalyani, ‘’The partnership between the Kalyani group and Saab will leverage our strong innovation-based manufacturing capability, coupled with Saab’s technical expertise and leadership in air defence systems, to deliver state-of-the-art, world leading solutions to the Indian Army’s air defence programs’’. The President of SAAB and CEO Hakan Bushke claimed that company has made a long term commitment to India and is keen to support the country’s efforts to create an indigenous defence industry. An upgraded version of RBS 70 man-portable air-defence system (MANPADS), RBS 70 NG, is designed to deliver a highly accurate, man-portable system with round the clock all-target capability which will remain immune to all countermeasures by the enemy aircraft. It will have a unique combination of its BAMSE advanced ground-based air defence missile system and Giraffe agile multi-beam (AMB) 3D surveillance radar, command and control system. This is equipped with the day-night 24X7 all target capability with perfect precision. The RBS 70 NG has the auto-tracker and integrated night sight capability.
The Israeli Iron Dome manufactured by the Israeli Rafael recently grabbed the headlines for its wonderful interceptions of short range missiles fired from neighboring places along with its ability to tackle missiles coming from 70kms distance. Though the then Air Chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne had countered Indian media reports by stating that Iron Dome is not suitable for Indian armed forces, the DRDO officials were eulogizing the capabilities of the Iron Dome and its requirement for Indian armed forces and the proposal for its joint production in India.
In view of the rising threat perception from the Pakistan based terror groups like Lashkar e Toiba who may be armed by the Pakistani army like the Palestinian Hamas, the Indian security establishment has seriously considered the possibility of its joint production in India in view of its requirement in large numbers to protect many big cities situated along the Pakistani border. The Rafael had demonstrated its Iron Dome system during the Aero-India 2013 mounted on a truck flatbed. This will help in easy deployment with forward located troops and can be easily carried by the advancing forces for its protection from enemy air attacks. Operators will find it easy to deploy the stand-alone air defence for securing high value locations. This can also be fielded as part of multi-layered air defence system along with the existing systems.
The Russian Rosoboronexport is another contender with its IGLA-S (SA-24) while the South Korean LIG Nex 1 has offered its Chiron. The IGLA-S can also be very effective against fast low flying cruise missiles and also unmanned aerial vehicles. The warhead of the IGLA-S is also 1.5 times heavier, which gives it more destructive power. It also offers 20 percent more range and can hit accurately at targets at a distance of six kilometers. Regarding Chiron, the Army officials are not very enthusiastic because of its double cost to the IGLA-S. The IGLA -S is based on the Igla MANPADS (ManPortable Air Defense System) and the Strelets control system, which can fire two missiles simultaneously, which is not common with other similar role missiles.
Russians claim that the Indian Army already possesses the IGLA missiles, which would be compatible with the new system and could be fired from the same launcher.
But it still remains to be seen how fast the new government will take decisions for the acquisition of modern air defence systems to replace the obsolete one.