NEW DELHI — The Indian Army is lobbying to purchase quick reaction surface-to-air missile systems (QRSAM) because the homemade Akash air defense system is slower and ineffective while on the move, an army official said.

"The reaction time of Akash is longer and has a radar coverage less than 360 degrees. QRSAMs are needed to defend formations in the forward tactical battlefield area whereas Akash is being used for guarding its assets located in deeper areas inside the country," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier general, said: "Akash is suited for static air defense where the response time may be longer, thus the same may not be suitable for employment in the tactical battle area given the need for quick reaction and speedy engagements. Moreover, it appears that the Army also wants a mobile AD system whereas the Akash may not be as agile and also has a larger footprint."

No Ministry of Defense (MoD) official would comment on the Indian Army's demand that MoD purchase a surface-to-air missile system to supplement the Akash.

"This is one of the major indigenous programs that has been shot down by the Army. Better coordination between the design and development agencies and the Army is crucial to prevent such occurrences and salvage Make in India," said Ankur Gupta, an analyst with Ernst and Young India. The Make in India policy's goal is to reduce weapon imports from 70 percent of acquisitions to about 50 percent in the next 10 years.

Since the only Indian-made Trishul surface-to-air system, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), was dumped 10 years ago because of technical failures, the only option is to import a system, the Indian Army official said.

After the Trishul system failed, the Indian Air Force imported the Spyder from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems of Israel and subsequently acquired the Akash system as well.

The Indian Army has acquired only the Akash, worth over $2.5 billion, but floated a $1.5 billion tender to acquire more systems.

It was issued to global and domestic defense companies, including Russia's Rosoboronexport, Raytheon of the United States, Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Tetraedr of Belarus, South Korea's Doosan Group and LIG Nex1, Thales and Eurosam of France, Diehl Defense of Germany, and pan-European MBDA.

However, no MoD official would comment on the status of procurement.

A tender issued in 2008 had poor response from overseas defense companies because of issues regarding the transfer of technology, and the technical features of the requirement. Only Rafael had been selected after technical evaluation, and the tender had to be withdrawn because it was on a single vendor basis.

In 2008, bids were sent to Israel's Rafael, Rheinmetall Defence of Germany, Raytheon of United States, Russia's KPB Tula, MBDA of France but only MBDA of France.

The 2013 tender for the QRSAM includes purchase of three squadrons of the surface-to-air missile systems along with 1485 missiles. The Indian Army  wanted the QRSAMs to be mounted on wheeled or tracked vehicles which have a speed of up to 40 kilometres per hour. The radars should be of contemporary technology and carry out surveillance and target acquisition on move. In addition, the QRSAM should have the capability to acquire  targets at an altitude of up to 6 kilometres and a minimum altitude of 30 meters.

While the Indian Army has asked MoD to acquire the QRSAMs, it has not rejected the home-grown Akash AD system, Indian Army official said.


Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.

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