On January 12, 2024, at 10:30 hours, a sleek missile blasted off from its mobile launcher on Kalam Island on the coast of Odisha to successfully detect, track, intercept and destroy a high-speed target flying at a very low altitude. This deadly terminator was an Akash-NG short range surface to air missile developed by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The test was flawless and its landmark success paved the way for user trials and subsequent induction into the Indian Armed Forces.
Significance of the Test
First and foremost, the government press release states and merits quoting in full. “It has validated the functioning of the weapon system consisting of the missile with indigenously developed Radio-Frequency Seeker, Launcher, Multi-Functional Radar and Command, Control and Communication System.” In simple words, it means that India has developed an indigenous, advanced air defence missile system, which is capable of locating and destroying enemy planes and missile within a range, radius of around 50kms (the exact range is unstated).
Second, it is a powerful deterrent to threats which abound along our eastern, western and northern borders. For a fighter jet, screaming off the tarmac from Mushaf Air Base at Sargodha in West Punjab, the international border is just a few short minutes flying time away. For a Babar-III nuclear capable cruise missiles launched from a hardened shelter in Sialkot or Gujranwala, it is even closer,
It is the same for missile regiments located on the southern rim of the Tibetan plateau and top of the line fighter jets, once our northern neighbor overcomes high altitude fuel and combustion issues.) But the regiments of the Akash NG on the prowl, neatly integrated in our defence network now offer the Indian government an option to extend a costly lesson to the emanators of such threats on the merits of peace
Third, the Akash NG is a fully indigenous system all, along the chain from detection to destruction of threats. It is the shining example of Atmanirbhar and proof that India can end and crippling import dependency in vital sectors if it so resolves. (Other examples include the devastating Rudram missile which suppresses enemy air defences and cutting edge Uttam radar which incorporates advanced Gallium Nitride technology).
A key reason behind these successful developments is our fledging micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) which now has learnt to manufacture the essential components the DRDO needs be it transistors, conductors, specialized machining of special alloys or chemicals, we are now increasingly capable of sourcing such items locally from companies who place quality above everything else. Fourth, the Akash NG marks a radical step ahead since its driven by a novel engine, called a dual pulse motor. This allows the Akash to vary its speed and conserve fuel for a furious blast towards the threat.
In conventional missiles, the propellant burns at a uniform rate throughout the duration of the flight. Its flight and velocity of burn is thus predictable, so if a good pilot is able to make the incoming missile maneuver and eat up more of its fuel in the chase, the chances of that pilot’s survival increase significantly. It is the same with missiles, particularly cruise missiles who are artful skimmers, they doggedly jink and duck and weave they’re to a target at very high speeds and at veery low altitudes.
This is where the Akash NG’s new dual-purpose motors and sensors make a difference. Not only is it capable to identify and lock targets more effectively, but can vary its course and speed to nullify the inbound threats evasive maneuvers, thereby allowing missiles to successfully approach the target and enter the kill zone.
Fifth, and most importantly, it is the policy perspective. The Indian government, DRDO and the private sector have shown that they can work jointly to skillfully craft an advanced weapon system like the Akash NG thorough the focused applications of science and technology, dedicated funding and laboratories for research and development and sourcing key components from local manufacturers.
The next step is mass production where DRDO roles reduces and the role of the company awarded the contract increases. But what will remain unchanged is the role of the local MSME manufacturers, who will finally reap the benefits of their laudable perseverance for long term purchase orders which will be repeated and thus, also finally get the secure financial where withal to scale up. This is how and ecosystem grows.
Here it will be crucial for the Indian government to ensure the entity awarded such a contract does not adopt the easier, swifter, and admittedly cheaper route of sourcing these components. This is because if such an eventuality does come to pass then it is our carefully nurtured indigenous manufacturing capabilities which will be affected. If that happens, then the Atmanirbharta would be affected and absurdly we would once again become dependent for foreign imports.
But truly, India has come too far in the past decades and we have learnt from too many painful lessons in the past to ever let our national security suffer the vagaries of foreign whim again and the best example of the new tenacity is the Akash NG which will before long make our air defence systems even more robust and impregnable.