Attention is now being given to the Army’s Air Defence Needs
A FORCE Report
The Indian Army’s air defence assets have been long overdue for replacement and now finally efforts towards remedying the existing gaps are being made. The shift towards ‘Make in India’ will also boost efforts to create a viable defence business in the private sector.
The large Indian land mass and sheer variety of air defence gun and missile systems that need to be acquired makes this a key sector for future growth as far as Indian defence companies are concerned. What is less clear, however, is the amount of technology that will actually be transferred to Indian private sector defence companies when it comes to air defence systems. Surface to Air Missile (SAM) based defence systems are not only costly to develop but also feature a broad range of closely held technologies across missile seeker, propulsion, guidance systems, search and track radars, jamming technology and a list that goes on and on.
Crucially, support and maintenance of these complicated weapons systems will be far superior when supported by Indian companies, than when provided by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) from its home country to defence public sector units (DPSUs) or the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).
The most recent and high profile announcement regarding private sector participation for air defence missile systems, was the announcement of the partnership between Reliance Defence and Russia’s ‘Almaz-Antey’ (though Almaz-Antey has denied signing any partnership agreement) that will offer a range of air defence missile and radar systems to the Indian armed forces. Amongst the systems identified by the two companies are the TOR-1M missile system and radars and automated control systems will also be looked at as future areas of partnership. ‘Almaz-Antey’ Systems already in service with the Indian armed forces, will also be considered for modernisation, repair and deep overhauls once the necessary approvals are obtained. Reliance Group Chairman Anil Ambani called the proposed partnership as, ‘An important milestone in the strategic relationship between the two countries.’
The TOR-1M Air Defence Missile Complex (ADMC) is mounted on a Russian 9A331 track-chassis combat vehicle and is a short range air defence system that is designed to destroy aircraft, helicopters, drones, guided missiles and other precision weapons flying at medium, low, and extremely low altitudes, in difficult air and jamming environments. If required, the missile system can also be deployed on an off-road truck chassis with the required weight capacity and can even be field deployed in a container or as a fixed unit. The TOR-1M can engage targets up to a distance of 12 km flying at an altitude up to 10 km.
It is also claimed to be able to engage precision weapons such as cruise missiles, smart air bombs, drones, and aircraft launched cruise missiles up to distance of 6 km and up to an altitude of 6 km. It can launch two simultaneously guided missiles at the same time, though only a single target can be engaged. The tracked missile system can travel at speeds of 65 kmph on paved roads and 30 kmph on unpaved roads. The TOR-1M is the successor to the OSA-AKM air defence system from the same company.
An indigenous system that is set for a long innings with army air defence is the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) developed Akash SAM system. Development of the Akash began in 1983 under Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) and two and a half decades later, the first orders were placed by the Indian Air Force (IAF) for two squadrons and six squadrons in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
According to figures released by the ministry of defence (MoD), the development costs for the Akash SAM system stands at Rs 604 crore. The Indian Army has placed orders for two regiments worth Rs 14,180 crore, while the IAF orders are worth Rs 4,969 crore. It was inducted into the Indian Army in May 2015 and the short range SAM can engage targets at a maximum range of 25 kms and upto an altitude of 20 kms. Indigenous content on the missile is claimed to be at 96 per cent as per the MoD. Against the IAF requirement for eight Akash SAM squadrons and four Squadrons have already been delivered to IAF for deployment. The first Akash Army Regiment is also ready and both regiments will be inducted and fully operational with the army by 2020 and further orders are likely.
An Akash regiment comprises six launchers and each launcher will have a complement of three missile Akash SAMs. The DRDO has already commenced work on an upgrade for the Akash called as Akash Mk II and work on the upgraded Akash variant is expected to be completed by 2019-2020. The planned improvements relate not only to range alone, but there will be a change in the technologies, which will see the Akash Mk II receive a new missile seeker that will allow it to complete the final intercept phase, for the last five to six km without assistance from ground radar.
In July 2015, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), approved the procurement of 428 air defence guns, worth an estimated Rs 17,000 crore (USD 2.6 billion dollars). Indian firms and DPSUs will now bid for the requirement to provide the army with a modern air defence gun system, which will have the 30 mm gun controlled by Fire Control Radar (FCR) and capable of engaging air targets both during day and night using FCR and Electro Optical Fire Control System (EOFCS). The vintage OFB built Bofors L-70 gun system, of which an estimated 1,000 pieces are in service are also receiving upgrades 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 the 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 2500 m (2.5 km), flying at 300m/s.
Deliveries of upgraded ZSU-23-4 self-propelled air defence weapon systems have now been underway for over a year as part of a 2011 contract for the modernisation of 48 ZSU-23-4 systems, in the first phase. The upgrades will be completed before the end of the decade and the ZSU-23-4 ‘Shilka’ (name of a Siberian river) all-weather, day/night, tracked system, with four automatic 23mm-calibre guns will be used for low-level air defence. The upgraded systems will deliver drastic improvements in operational performance and accuracy due to the integration of a digital search-cum-track radar that can track multiple targets, modern computer, EOFCS (comprising of TI Camera, Charge Coupled Device (CCD) camera and LRF). The upgraded Shilka’s will also have crew air conditioning, new main and auxiliary engines, an integrated fire detection and suppression system, an NBC filters and a modern communication system. The self-propelled Shilka air defence systems were acquired in the Seventies and Eighties.