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Air Defence and Delhi's Missile Shield

February 26, 2020 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By Rosoboronexport
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


IGLA-S missile with its launch tube

It was mentioned in these columns recently that India-Russia negotiations are underway for the supply of IGLA-S man-portable anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADS), contract is likely to be concluded by end 2020, plans are to import quantity 5175 multiple variants from Russia and DRDO will assemble another 600 of these in India. Why quantity 5175 plus 600 is not known but a senior veteran who dealt with missile procurements says, "The numbers being bought are excessive. This is one big problem with our procurements Look at the kill probability and also all the other air defense systems in our inventory - pare that with adversary capabilities to arrive at some kind of a prudent figure. Also there is always a tradeoff between offensive and defensive capabilities". He adds, "Kill probability of IGLA-S is lower than RBS 70 missiles which we evaluated in 1980 but due to the Bofors scandal the proposal was not pursued further". Yet, having established better kill probability of IGLA-S over RBS 70, we still imported RBS 70 because of Bofors scandal.

In recent times Russia's Kalashiknov wanted to tie up with Adani Defence for producing the AK-302 assault rifle under Make in India but government under pressure due uproar over the Rafael deal told Kalashiknov tie up with the DRDO-OFB finding an excuse, despite the dismal record of DRDO-OFB in producing any worthwhile small arms. Modernisation of Infantry remained a casualty because the numbers required to be imported did not have large financial outlay and other imports costing more were more beneficial to the deep state for obvious reasons. That is the reason why capital acquisitions continue under Defence Secretary, not under the CDS heading the standalone Directorate of Military Affairs in the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Now media has reported on February 10, 2020 that US has approved the possible $1.87 billion sale of an Integrated Air Defence Weapon System (IADWS) to India. The report says that the Modi government had requested to buy the IADWS comprising of 3 x AN/MPQ-64FI Sentinel radar systems, 118 x AMRAAM AIM-120C-7/C-8 missiles, 3 x AMRAAM Guidance Sections, 3 x AMRAAM Control Sections and 134 x Stinger FIM-92L missiles. According to US sources there are no known offset agreements proposed in conjunction with this proposed sale; however, India typically requests defence offsets.

Any offset agreement will be defined in the negotiations between the Indian government and the prime contractors in this deal. But offsets have become a joke in India after Anil Ambani's hitherto unheard firm was accorded 30,000 crores in offsets when finalising the Rafale deal and last year Anil Ambani's company RCom which owed over 50,000 crore to banks was officially declared bankrupt – typical Indian way of looting banks and taxpayers money. Logically, some other assets of Anil Ambani should have been auctioned and the 50,000 should have been returned to banks with interest, but that may not happen. Subsequent news of February 16, 2020 says India is concerned over the very high price of $1.87 billion of the US IADWS (missile shield for Delhi) and this will be discussed during contract negotiations between the two governments. Perceived strategic preferences often overlook pricing but the question that the deep state would be loath to answer is the fate of our indigenous Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD)? If there is no confidence in the indigenous BMD, admit it has been waste of money and why hype it? It may be recalled that the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in August 2018 had approved the 'acceptance of necessity' (AoN) for procuring the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II (NASAMS-II) worth around $1 billion from the US. By then Kongsberg Gruppen of Norway had already exported NASAMS-II to Finland, Netherlands, Spain, Oman and Chile. Logically, we should have dealt directly with Kongsberg Gruppen rather than US since US firm Raytheon's collaboration with Kongsberg Gruppen is only for the AMRAAM missile and Kongsberg Gruppen is exporting the NAMAS-II. Media had then said, Delhi would have the US missile defence soon. Before 2018, government was propagating indigenous BMD based on double-tiered system consisting of two land and sea-based interceptor missiles as the deliverance against air threats – including the ideal missile shield for Delhi, it comprised the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile for high altitude interception, and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile for lower altitude interception, cumulatively aimed at intercepting incoming missile launched 5,000 km away were successfully tested in November 2006 and December 2007. With PAD, India became the fourth country to have successfully developed an anti-ballistic missile system, after the US, Russia, and Israel.

Also on March 6, 2011, India launched its indigenous interceptor missile which destroyed a 'hostile' target ballistic missile, a modified Prithvi, at an altitude of 16 km over the Bay of Bengal. Phase-I of the indigenous BMD was to be deployed in 2018. Has commissioning of indigenous BMD been delayed purposely to facilitate importing NASAMS-II (read IADWS) or are the crores spent on BMD a fiasco requires serious introspection. In August 2018, DAC envisaging IADWS at $1 billion must have been based on specific inputs. US is now indicating the price at $1.87 billon and considering the months of price negotiations it may go well over $2 billion. India is also importing S-400 systems from India at much lower costs – averaging $1.25 billion per system. Is import of IADWS bureaucratic balance of keeping Billa Bhi Khush, Ranga Bhi Khush? If it is to deter the US from threatening sanctions under CAATSA, that has not worked, Our effort should be to speed up the deployment of indigenous BMD and DRDO projects like 'Aditya' that have been languishing for years. Even without the indigenous BMD deployed, the IAF is already equipped with 25 km range missiles to beef up existing air-defence capability. For dealing with drone threats we need to investing in laser defence in addition to other anti-drone measures like China. We have already developed an indigenous ant-drone system which was deployed during the recent visit of US President Donald Trump.