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India Keeps Improving Its SAMs

August 5, 2021
Via Indian PIB/DRDO.

On July 23 the DRDO announced it conducted a successful launch and flight test for the Akash-NG, the generational improvement of the Akash SAM, that integrated a radio frequency seeker, a multi-function radar, and a command and control (C2) unit coordinating the operation. The Akash is a short to medium-range SAM system that has partially replaced the Indian Army and Air Force’s Soviet origin anti-aircraft defenses. For decades the Indian military was among the largest operators of Kub, Osa, and Pechora SAMs. The success of the original Akash paved the way for its potential exports; the defense ministry claims there are multiple inquiries for the Akash but no sales have been confirmed yet.

As with all DRDO projects, which are undertaken with the cooperation of state-owned laboratories and sometimes private sector firms, the Akash-NG is years away from completing its development and its entry in the armed forces is far from certain. A previous launch of the Akash-NG took place in January this year. Before that the DRDO were conducting launches of the Akash Mk-1S that was equipped with a locally made radio frequency seeker. The development of the Akash-NG is not just tactical but political. India’s government remains committed to a policy that champions domestic manufacturers and this is being pushed harder as relations with China remain tense.

Although India’s armed forces are larger than China’s on paper a capability gap is all too obvious. Not only does the PLA have the advantage of a larger budget but its weaponry is newer and more capable than what India’s army can bring to the remote geographies where Beijing and Delhi are at loggerheads. The PLA are at an advantage when it comes to drones or unmanned systems and “precision fires” at long and extreme ranges. Chinese air defenses are just as potent. In 2019 the PLA included its newest mobile SAM the HQ-17A in another grandiose anniversary parade. The HQ-17A, which utilizes a portable vertical launcher for its missiles, complements existing road mobile anti-aircraft artillery and missiles.

Short and medium range SAMs are flourishing across Eurasia at the moment. Regardless of when the Akash-NG becomes operational there are similar air defense systems either being tested or promoted by countries obsessed with enhancing their military-industrial sectors. In 2019 the US lost an RQ-4A BAMS-D surveillance drone in the Persian Gulf when it was shot down by an Iranian-made missile belonging to an air defense system called Third of Khordad. Later that year Iran promoted its homegrown theater air defense system comparable to the Patriot PAC-2 albeit with more sophisticated radars.

Turkey is refusing to be left behind. Its state-owned aerospace manufacturer Roketsan and its partner Aselsan are hard at work completing the Hisar-series of SAMs. The latest variant the Hisar-O+ underwent testing in July this year and once it’s finally approved for adoption the Turkish armed forces can start building a far better air defense doctrine that isn’t reliant on outdated NATO technology. Of course, Israel punches above its weight when it comes to its indigenous military technology and the IAI Barak-series SAMs are among the most advanced in the world.

East Asian countries are also rolling out indigenous air defense systems regardless of the steep costs involved. North Korea’s military parade in 2020 featured a peculiar SAM mounted on a trailer with an integrated tracking radar. Judging by its appearance the KPA air defense branch have embraced the Russian-made Tor-2M as the basis for short-range SAMs with a two-stage ignition mechanism contained in vertical launchers. (The missile shoots out of its container before a second ignition sets it on its flight path.) It seems like a painful coincidence how China, Russia, and North Korea have chosen the same short-range air defense system albeit in their preferred variants without any sort of open cooperation among them.

Absent US arms sales the military industries of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have their own localized SAM development.

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