Army’s Air Defence needs are seeing greater momentum
Long-pending requirements for the modernisation and upgrade of Indian Army air defence weaponry are now receiving renewed impetus. While much remains to be done, a start has been made towards remedying the deficiencies in army requirement for gun and missile based air defence systems. The month of July saw the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), led by defence minister Manohar Parrikar approve the multi-billion dollar procurement for modern air defence guns for the army. The army will now acquire 428 air defence guns, worth an estimated Rs 17,000 crore (USD 2.6 billion dollars), a long overdue first step towards replacement of air defence guns, that are essentially five decade old. Indian firms and Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) will now bid for the requirement to provide the army with a modern air defence gun system, which will have fire control radar, be capable of engaging air targets both during day and night using Fire Control Radar and Electro Optical Fire Control System (EOFCS). The preferred calibre is 30mm or more. It should also have the ability to be towed on metalled roads and cross country in plains, semi deserts and deserts and be capable of effective operation in mountainous terrain and at high altitude.
Presently, the army operates a large number of vintage air defence guns in the Swedish Bofors L-70 and Soviet era ZU-23-2 respectively. Upgrades are underway for the L-70 gun system, which was built under license by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the ZU-23-2 upgrade is slated to fructify soon. The army has in excess of 1,000 pieces of the L-70 anti-aircraft gun in its inventory and upgrades are being performed at the Jabalpur-based Gun Carriage Factory (GCF) in partnership with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). Approximately, 200 systems are to be upgraded in the first phase and an unspecified number of upgraded systems have already been handed over to the army. The upgraded L-70s have been modernised with electric drives that replace the older hydraulic drives and feature an Integrated Fire Control System with Optronic Sight Consisting of Eye Safe Laser Range Finder (LRF), DLTV and Thermal Imager (TI). Also, to be upgraded are the ZU-23mm 2B air defence guns. Punj Lloyd was selected in June this year as one of the finalists following field evaluation. The upgrade replaces the manual laying system with a rugged EOFCS. This will provide the ability to engage targets during day and night in plains, deserts or in mountains. It will also feature a day and night camera, laser range finder and a digital fire control computer. The upgraded-gun can engage aerial targets, out to a distance of 2,500 m (2.5 km), flying at 300m/s.
Deliveries of upgraded ZSU-23-4 self-propelled air defence weapon systems are now underway with BEL having delivered the first systems in November 2014. As part of a 2011 contract, BEL is modernising 48 ZSU-23-4 systems in the first phase, out of an estimated 90 such systems with the army. The ZSU-23-4 is also named Shilka, after the name of a Siberian river. The upgrade and delivery of all 48 systems is expected to be completed by 2018-2019. The Shilka upgrade will deliver an all-weather, day/night, tracked system, with four automatic 23mm-calibre guns for low-level air defence. According to BEL, “This upgraded system provides drastic improvements in operational performance, accuracies, power consumption and Mean Time between Failure (MTBF).” It will feature a digital search-cum-track radar that can track multiple targets, modern computer, EOFCS (comprising of TI Camera, Charge Coupled Device camera and LRF), and the upgrades for the system performed in Bangalore will see the addition of air-conditioning for crew comfort, new main and auxiliary engines, integrated fire detection and suppression system, an NBC filter (against nuclear, biological and chemical elements) and a modern communication system. The self-propelled Shilka air defence systems were acquired in the Seventies and Eighties. The first Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM) system was inducted into the Indian Army in May this year. The Indian Army will receive two regiments of the Akash SAM systems from Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) worth approximately Rs 14,180 crore (USD 2.14 billion). Both regiments will be inducted and fully operational with the army by 2020, and further orders are likely. The Akash will be able to engage aerial threats upto a range of 25 km and an altitude of 18 km. An Akash regiment comprises six launchers and each launcher will have a complement of three missile Akash SAMs.