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Air Defense: Akash Rises From the Ashes
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December 6, 2007: After a quarter century of development, India has accepted the Akash anti-aircraft missile system for service. The Indian Air Force will buy several firing units, for delivery in two years.

 

The air force is also planning to buy similar Israeli Spyder systems. This is a mobile, short range system using, as many such systems do these days, air-to-air missiles. Spyder launchers (truck mounted, with four box like launch cells each) can carry either the Python 5 heat seeking missile (ten feet long, 231 pounds, with a range of 15 kilometers) or the Derby radar guided missile (11.2 feet long, 267 pounds, with a range of 65 kilometers). The Derby is actually a larger Python, with more fuel and a different guidance system. Each Spyder system has four missile launcher trucks, a radar truck and a missile re-supply truck. Each Spyder system costs about $10 million. Spyder radar has a maximum range of 100 kilometers. The missiles can hit targets as high as 28,000 feet and as low as 65 feet.

 

Meanwhile, in the last two years, there have been many successful Akash test launches. While many in the government wanted to cancel the project, work continued.  It's been 17 years since the first test launch, and three years since the project was last cancelled. Every few years, politicians and journalists get indignant about the slow, or non-existent, progress of the project. Yes, there is always enough progress, or a successful appeal to national pride, to keep the money coming, and block orders to cancel the project.

 

Akash is basically an upgraded Russian SA-6 system, and is meant to replace very old Russian air defense systems. Each 1,543 pound Akash missile has a 132 pound warhead, a range of 27 kilometers and can kit targets as high as 49,000 feet, or as low as 66 feet. India wants to built a version of Akash for use on ships, and is already looking into a longer range (60 kilometers) version. India has spent over $200 million developing Akash, so far.

 

This work on indigenous missile designs, under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP), managed by the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO), India's equivalent to the U.S. DARPA. (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.) What apparently caused the most problems was software development. While India has a lot of local talent in this department, creating this kind of specialized military software is very difficult.

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