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India Is Building A Massive Air Defense Arsenal

October 6, 2022
Via DRDO/Press Information Bureau.

On September 8 the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) announced it completed six test launches for the QRSAM, a medium-range air defense system for the army, at a firing range in the Odisha coast. The parameters set by the DRDO for the QRSAM are very interesting as these required targeting at “high medium-range” and then at short-range followed by “high altitude maneuvering.” The QRSAM’s missile was even used against a “low radar signature” target, which means it was tested for its effectiveness versus stealthy aircraft. The QRSAM also proved it can launch volleys of missiles in succession. The DRDO’s latest achievement forms part of a growing arsenal meant to counter the aerial threats faced by India.

Weeks later the DRDO publicized a separate test for the VSHORADS, an upcoming man-portable launcher with a single missile, that is already export approved. A booklet published by the DRDO and given to visitors at arms shows features the VSHORADS among other missiles. Without getting into too much detail the information provided lists a fire and forget missile able to track and lock on to high speed targets. The DRDO pitches it as a “low cost solution with a fourth-generation homing seeker.” Since the September 23 test launch the DRDO revealed the VSHORADS is propelled by a two-stage solid thrust motor. What the DRDO ignores about the VSHORADS is the munition itself is now successfully tested but the weapon system isn’t complete. The packaging of its container/launch tube as well as operator’s controls attached to the weapon system are missing.

Regardless, the rapid schedule of anti-aircraft missile tests this year–the VL-SRSAM based on the Astra air-to-air missile got its own publicized test in late August–forms a broader trend where the DRDO, with its deep technological knowledge pool, is carefully assembling a complete arsenal from scratch. The same pattern is evident in Iran, although on a ridiculous scale, and to a lesser extent Türkiye whose military-industrial sector spent the better part of a decade crafting individual short, medium, and long-range SAMs that are now entering service. In the case of Türkiye it invested funding and years for a joint venture between Aselsan, Roketsan, and Tübitak SAGE for the Siper or SiPER long-range SAM that was designed to finally close the air defense gap the armed forces have struggled with since the 1990s.

Returning to India, although the armed forces operate a large arsenal of anti-aircraft weaponry, the DRDO has continued working on indigenous systems that either augments or replaces the foreign models that have been in service for decades. In some cases, such as with the MRSAM operated by the Indian Navy, a foreign partner like Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) helped localize its modular Barak-series of missiles for naval and land-based roles. The success of the MRSAM rubbed off on the LRSAM that completed testing from 2019 and 2020 and was delivered by the DRDO in 2021. The army’s own road mobile Akash SAM that has evolved into the Akash-NG and Akash-Prime serves as undeniable proof how Indian state-owned entities combine resources to fulfill the armed forces’ requirements at an accelerating scale.

At present the VSHORADS, VL-SRSAM, MRSAM, QRSAM, LRSAM and Akash constitute a full spectrum of air defenses beginning with individual soldiers all the way up to the operation level. (To borrow the distinctions between tactical and operational hierarchies in Western military doctrine.) The missing and rather elusive piece is the XRSAM, predictably an acronym for “extended-range SAM,” that remains in development and years away from testing. Information about the XRSAM remains scarce but, judging by how theater-level air and missile defense is proliferating around the world, it’s destined to serve as a road mobile system with significant data and network integration. Below is a useful tabulation for India’s current and ongoing SAM development:

RoleStatusMin. AltitudeMax. AltitudeMissile RangeSimilar To
VSHORADSMan-portableUnder development-/-est. 4 kmest. 7 kmIgla-S
VL-SRSAMRoad mobileUnder development-/-est. 12 kmest. 30 kmNASAMS
AkashRoad mobileIn service30 m18 km35 kmBuk-M2E
Akash-NGRoad mobileUnder development30 mest. 20 kmest. 40 kmViking 9K317ME
Akash-PrimeRoad mobileUnder development30 m-/--/--/-
QRSAMRoad mobileUnder development-/--/--/-S-350E
MRSAMNavalIn service-/-20 km70 kmBarak-LRAD
LRSAMRoad mobileUnder development-/-20 km70 kmBarak-LRAD
XRSAMRoad mobileUnder development

est. 50 km

est. 400 km

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