Sunday, October 17, 2010

India Nears Fielding Of New SAM Systems

The Indian air force is gearing up to field a raft of new air defense equipment and address long-standing concerns about the existing inventory.

New Delhi has long worried about gaps; and in areas where it has fielded air defense systems, the equipment is often out of date. Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Naik, the Indian air force (IAF) leader, says half of the equipment at his command faces obsolescence, with that label applying to the majority of air defense weapons.

That situation is now being remedied. By next March, the IAF will begin receiving the first of 18 Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)-Rafael Spyder quick-reaction medium-range missile systems. The offshore deal became necessary in 2006 because of development problems and delays in the indigenous Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM) program.

However, Akash has since turned the corner, and the IAF decided to order six more Akash batteries worth $925 million—each with 125 missiles—in addition to the two systems already on order. The service will receive its first two Akash batteries in February, and is likely to deploy them in India’s Northeast.

The IAF also anticipates joint development work kicking off in earnest on the 15-km.-range (9.3-mi.) Indo-French Maitri short-range SAM (SR-SAM), which is aimed at filling the void created when the Indian government decided to wind up the Trishul point-defense weapon program in 2006 and effectively de-link it from IAF and Indian navy requirements. A workshare agreement between the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and European missile maker MBDA has been concluded. IAF sources suggest a formal accord sanctioning the program is likely soon, possibly when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits New Delhi later this year.

An MBDA official says the SR-SAM would finish development work and the first phase of testing within three years of program go-ahead. While no official timelines have been revealed, the IAF expects the system to be available for deployment by late 2013.

Even higher on the IAF’s priority list is the 70-km.-range MR-SAM that the DRDO is developing with IAI. The IAF has revealed plans to raise at least two regiments that will use the MR-SAM, each with 40 launchers and support equipment. In India, the MR-SAM will progressively replace the IAF’s antiquated Soviet-vintage SA-3 Pechora and SA-8 OSA-AK SAM systems. A proposed foreign-assisted upgrade of the Pechora fleet was shelved two years ago, with the IAF deciding it was more economical to pursue a limited ground-equipment modification by Bharat Electronics Ltd. The Pechora, OSA-AK and 9K38 Igla man-portable SAM systems are effectively obsolete, and the IAF admits it has had to cannibalize equipment to keep a minimum number operationally effective.

The raft of modernization activities should remedy a situation that, in June 2006, was strongly criticized by the Indian parliamentary committee on defense, which accused the defense ministry of taking a “lackadaisical approach” to existing needs and being responsible for “derailed modernization and critical voids.” Shortly after the committee’s stinging report was released, the government began prioritizing air defense purchases and development programs.

But these activities to not address all of the air force’s concerns; radar coverage is another worry. The IAF currently has fast-track tenders out for long-range surveillance radars, high-powered radars, three-dimensional C/D band air surveillance radars, low-level transportable radars and radars for mountain surveillance in India’s northern and eastern sectors.

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