It may be an irony but China’s aggression has pushed India to expedite long overdue military replacements and urgent purchases, writes Col Anil Bhat (retd) for South Asia Monitor
An irony about the complex Sino-Indian relationship is that sometimes it causes enough concern in the Indian establishment to expedite long overdue sanctioning replacements and urgent purchases. A classic case was the 1962 war which led to the replacement of the ancient .303 Lee Enfield (still used by many state police forces).
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) second "aggression" in 2020, in the Galway Valley in the Ladakh Himalayas, had a similar but much greater and wider effect. The procurement and production of many missiles and other weapons systems as well as various systems and equipment, including clothing and habitat, got a major push. Participation of Indian industry in defence production too got a fillip.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh handed over five Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) developed products to the armed forces and other security agencies in New Delhi on December 14, 2021. He also handed over six Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreements to seven public and private sector companies.
The minister referred to a big change over the last few years in the approach of DRDO whereby it was not only working on technologies to mitigate current threats but also on first-of-its-kind technologies to face future challenges. On making India a strong platform of the defence manufacturing base and net defence exporter, he said DRDO has played a significant role by collaborating with the armed forces, private industry, start-ups and academia.
Expressing satisfaction about ToT with private players, he noted it will not only make a strong defence industrial base in the country but also fulfill the needs of friendly countries.
Rajnath Singh said the government is working to realize the objective of Make in India and Make for the World by bringing in several policy reforms such as the creation of defence corridors in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, formulating a Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy and bringing out positive lists of defence items for domestic manufacturing.
The products handed over to the armed forces and the Home Ministry were an anti-drone system, modular bridge, smart anti-airfield weapon, chaff variants and lightweight fire-fighting suit. The counter-drone systems, developed by DRDO, is for deterrence and destruction of incoming drones. The modular bridge is a single span, mechanically launched assault bridge of military load class MLC-70. It can be launched in different spans.
The Smart Anti Airfield Weapon is an air-launched, long-range, stand-off, air-to-surface smart bomb. The structural fire-fighting suit has been developed by DRDO’s Centre for Fire, Explosive and Environment Safety, Delhi.
ToT agreements of seven DRDO-developed systems which were handed over were Coastal Surveillance Radar, Automatic Chemical Agent Detection and Alarm (ACADA) & Chemical Agent Monitor (CAM), Unit Maintenance Vehicle, Unit Repair Vehicle, Fused Silica-based Ceramic Core technology and Fire Suppressing Gel. DRDO is working on smart materials, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning based systems, Swarm drones and Asymmetric warfare.
Agni P missile
On December 18, DRDO successfully tested the new generation nuclear-capable ballistic missile ‘Agni P’ from the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Island off Odisha. Various telemetry, radar, electro-optical stations and downrange ships positioned along the eastern coast tracked and monitored the trajectory and parameters. All mission objectives were achieved with a high level of accuracy. The Agni P is a two-stage canisterised solid-propellant ballistic missile with dual redundant navigation and guidance system. This second flight test proved the reliable performance of all the advanced technologies integrated into the system.
The same day, DRDO conducted a flight demonstration of the Controlled Aerial Delivery System at the Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment (ADRDE). The CADS-500 is used for precise delivery of payloads up to 500 kg at a predetermined location by making use of manoeuvrable capabilities of Ram Air Parachute (RAP). It uses GPS for the coordinates, altitude and heading sensors for the heading information during its flight. The CADS, with its onboard electronics unit, autonomously steers its flight path using waypoint navigation towards the target location by operating controls.
System performance was demonstrated at Drop Zone, Malpura, from an altitude of 5,000 meters. The system was para-dropped from AN-32 aircraft and then steered to the pre-designated landing point in autonomous mode. Eleven paratroopers of the Indian Army and Indian Air Force chased the CADS-500 in the air and landed simultaneously.
On February 22, 2021, DRDO first test-fired two VL-SRSAM off the Odisha coast. The maiden launch tested the efficacy of the vertical launch system and the missile's maximum and minimum range. Both the missiles successfully intercepted their target with pinpoint accuracy. Another launch was conducted from a vertical launcher against an electronic target at a very low altitude. It was to validate the integrated operation of all weapon system components including the vertical launcher unit with controller, canisterised flight vehicle and weapon control system. The missile hit an electronic target at a range of 60 km.
Developed for the Indian Navy, the VL-SRSAM is a quick reaction surface-to-air missile that has a maximum speed of Mach 4-5. During the mid-course flight, the missile uses a fibre optics gyroscope based inertial guidance mechanism while in the terminal phase it uses active radar homing. With lock-on before launch (LOBL) and lock-on after launch (LOAL) capability, the missile receives mid-course updates via data link. Each Vertical Launch System (VLS) can hold 40 missiles in a twin quad-pack canister configuration carrying eight missiles each for hot launch that can be installed in an arrangement of multiple launch systems based on the availability of space on the warship.
The missile is for neutralizing various aerial threats at medium and close ranges, including enemy fighter aircraft and sea-skimming anti-ship missiles. As an integrated solution of missile and weapon control system (WCS) with 360° interception capability, it can detect and engage threats from different directions.
For the manufacturing, the VL-SRSAM missile system is planned to be offloaded to an indigenous private firm under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (Self Reliant India) initiative. This will be the very first time a private company will be engaged in the manufacture of such a missile system. The involvement of the private sector should speed up production.
On December 11, the Defence Ministry announced the successful test-firing of the Extended Range Pinaka rocket system (Pinaka-ER); 24 rockets were fired for testing different ranges and warhead capabilities. All the trial objectives were met successfully.
The rocket systems tested at Pokharan field firing ranges were manufactured by a private industry following ToT by the DRDO. The rocket system has been jointly designed by two Pune-based DRDO laboratories - the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) and the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL).
Enhanced range Pinaka rockets were test-fired at different ranges with various warhead capabilities. All the trial objectives were met satisfactorily. The rocket systems that were tested were manufactured by a private industry following ToT by the DRDO.
The Pinaka MK-I rocket system has a range of around 40 km and the Pinaka II variant can hit targets at a distance of 60 km. The exact range of the Pinaka-ER (MK-I variant) is not known but it is likely to be around 70 km. The VL-SRSAM missile system and the Pinaka-ER will boost the Indian military’s firepower.
DRDO has also successfully conducted the first flight test of indigenously developed surface-to-surface missile ‘Pralay’, meeting all its objectives. The missile powered with a solid propellant rocket motor and many new technologies has a range of 150-500 km and can be launched from a mobile launcher. The missile guidance system includes a state-of-the-art navigation system and integrated avionics. DRDO then successfully conducted the second flight test ‘Pralay’. For the first time, two consecutive flight tests of a ballistic missile were conducted successfully on two consecutive days. In the second launch, the ‘Pralay’ missile was tested for heavier payload and different ranges to prove the precision and lethality of the weapon.
On December 27, DRDO handed over technology for indigenous extreme cold weather clothing system (ECWS) to five Indian companies. ECWS is required by the Indian Army for its sustained operations in the Siachen glacier and Himalayan ranges. The Army till recently has been importing extreme cold weather clothing. The DRDO designed ECWCS is an ergonomically designed modular technical clothing with improved thermal insulation and physiological comfort based on the insulation required at various ambient climatic conditions in the Himalayan regions during different levels of physical activity.
(The author is a former spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence and Indian Army. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)