Air Defense: Akash Ascendant

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January 17, 2009: India has ordered $250 million worth of its locally developed and produced Akash anti-aircraft missile system. This came a year after the missile completed development. And this came after a quarter century of effort, and nearly $100 million, to design, and make the system work. The Indian Air Force will get the first firing units, in about two years. The Indian Army may also buy in.

In the last three years, there have been many successful Akash test launches. While many in the government wanted to cancel the project, work continued. It's been 18 years since the first test launch, and four years since the project was last cancelled. Every few years, politicians and journalists get indignant about the slow, or non-existent, progress of the Akash 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. But India is determined to develop the capability of designing and building high-tech weapons, something few countries can do. India is following in the footsteps of China and Russia, two nations that still had most of their population living in poverty, while the state concentrated resources to create the technological base needed to build modern weapons.

 


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