Thursday, 15 November 2012

Testing of new set of short-range missiles reaches final stage

After the disturbing fact tumbled out that 97 per cent of Indian air defence equipment is obsolete, the armed forces are now in the final stages of trying out a new set of missiles that will target airborne threats at a very short range.

This will prove crucial in protecting military bases, frontline airbases, tank regiments, warships and also strategic assets. The last set of trials is slated for February 2013, sources confirmed.

India aims to spend $5.4 billion (approx Rs 29,000 crore) to buy some 1,000 missile launchers and 6,000 missiles for its Very Short-Range Air-Defence System (VSHORADS). This is the initial order. Once the missile is approved for purchase, licence production in India will commence making it the key weapon of choice, sources said. Public sector giant Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) will be the Indian production arm.

It was in March that the then Army Chief General VK Singh wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying 97 per cent of the air defence systems were obsolete. India, at present, operates the Russian origin Igla-SA-18 weapon for very short range targets - between 6 to 8 km.

The new set of missiles will form the last ring of air defence and have to be very accurate and reliable in hitting targets. The prime aim is to tackle UAVs, helicopters and even low-flying fighter jets within immediate range.

The three contenders are the French missile maker MBDA with its weapon ‘Mistral’, Sweden’s Saab with its ‘RBS 70 NG’ and Russia’s new generation ‘Igla-SA-24’. Sources said the evaluation was done in extensive trials carried out during summer in Rajasthan in May.

A coastal environment trial was done near Visakhapatnam to check for firing capabilities in humid conditions. High-altitude trails have been conducted at Ladakh. The winter testing of the weapon will be done in early February in the northern part of the country.

Sources pointed out that India is looking at a system that can be deployed in multiple configurations and can be used by the Army, Air Force and Navy. One among the many configurations that the missile should have is that it should be man-portable that can easily lifted by troops in rugged mountain areas and carried to newer locations.

In the plains, the requirement is to fit it with a twin-launcher and base it on a high-mobility vehicle so that it can accompany the tank regiments to battle or be at airbases and other high-value targets like nuclear plants and large dams like the Bhakra.

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