MI2Watch: Akash to be BEL’s star at show; more IAF orders likely
Bengaluru, Feb 16: Home-grown Akash Missile System (AMS) is all set to storm this year's Aero India with Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) projecting it as the lead product in India's indigenous march, since Independence.
BEL is showcasing AMS as the perfect case study to refer to while sharing the advantages of a Make in India concept in aerospace and defence. AMS is the first indigenously-built missile defence system in India.
Military sources confirm to OneIndia that the Indian Air Force (IAF) is likely to place additional procurement orders on BEL (49 firing units) in a phased manner. The IAF might immediately procure seven squadrons of AMS (consisting of 14 firing units.) The configuration of the seven new squadrons is likely to be similar to those being deployed currently.
Already commissioned in IAF arsenal
During an exclusive interview to OneIndia, Nataraj Krishnappa, General Manager (Missile Systems), BEL, said that the first order for AMS (worth about Rs 1200 crore, two squadrons) was placed by IAF in 2008. These squadrons have already been supplied, installed and commissioned.
"A repeat order from the IAF for six more squadrons of AMS (worth around Rs 3500 crore) came in December 2010 and four squadrons of the same have been already manufactured. All six squadrons will be completed ahead of schedule in 2015," says Nataraj, heading one of the most-talented teams in BEL.
The Indian Army has already placed an order on Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), Hyderabad, for two regiments of Akash Weapon System.
It was during the UPA regime the decision to split Akash orders were taken with BEL getting IAF orders and BDL, the Army versions. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had then felt that splitting the orders would encourage competition among DPSUs.
However, BEL is supplying all the radars, control centres, satellite data-links to BDL for integration on Army variants of Akash systems. Further, BEL has developed the software for the entire system apart from having the contract from BDL to complete integration of all the elements and commissioning of the system.
To a specific query on the home-grown content on AMS, Nataraj said that barring few electronic components, every bit has the ‘Made in India' tag.
"The design and manufacture is done exclusively within India, barring certain components which are not available here.
As you know the electronic components manufacture in India is in its infancy and world over design and production is in the hands of few developed countries. Almost 85 percent of the total cost of inputs is sourced within India," he said.
BEL has received orders worth about Rs 4500 crore from IAF and their share in the Army version is over Rs 3000 crore, out of total work order of about 14000 crore. BEL has projected the estimated business potential from AMS over Rs 15000 crore, in future.
Make in India concept's best example
For the IAF version, BEL is the lead vendor and integrator. The surveillance radar, tracking radar, flight control centre, support systems and the integrated software for AMS are manufactured by BEL.
Akash missiles are supplied by BDL, while the launchers for missiles are being supplied by Tata Power / L&T and the squadron control centre is manufactured by ECIL. Integration of all equipment and software at the squadron level, installation and commissioning of AMS is being done by BEL. The weapon system software developed jointly by LRDE and BEL plays a crucial role in achieving the target destruction.
AMS protects vulnerable points and vulnerable areas with a slant range of 25-30 km at altitudes up to 20 km. It can destroy high-speed targets like fighter aircraft and UAVs. Except the final action of pressing the‘destroy' button, most of the major functions are done by the computer running on the weapon system software, being jointly developed by BEL and DRDO.
Challenges and lessons for BEL
BEL says that the AMS prototype was built on BMP Tanks and the development took several years. The first order for production came from IAF and the configuration of prototype was unsuitable for the user. Within just three years, BEL had to re-engineer the AMS on to truck/trailer-mounted version. Many systems that became obsolete were changed, before delivering the final product to the IAF.
BEL adopted a concurrent engineering and production model with close co-operation of all the DRDO labs and other industry partners.
"This was a daunting task but all the objectives were achieved and the first squadron was completed within time," he adds.
There are about 100 major vendors (including other units of BEL) spread all over India, who scripted this Make in India success story.
"We have huge number of stakeholders to be managed, including DRDO labs, various inspection agencies (MSQAA), Industry partners and the IAF. Communication management and conflict management are two sets of skills we learned from Akash project. It was definitely a new experience for BEL," he says.
Many trials on different modes
BEL says that the system was put in desert conditions and extreme cold conditions (Pokhran flight trials) during the prototype stage. PTAs (Pilotless Target Aircraft) pulling dummy targets were used most of the times for firing trials at Balasore.
At times fighter jets (including Sukhois) dropped parachutes fitted with targets, and on few occasions, the PTAs were fired at directly.
"Low flying targets at near distances were successfully destroyed by AMS. High altitude far boundary, multiple targets, mid altitude and mid-range with approaching and receding targets, etc were the other missions which were successfully conducted. The user inputs keep us working on newer ideas as well," he says.
After extensive trials, the IAF seems to be a happy customer. The IAF has tested the AMS capability in several simulated war scenarios and the results are said to be satisfactory. BEL says it can add any new features being demanded by the user within a short time.
DRDO's role and some names to remember
Team BEL gives the credit of AMS to former DRDO Chief Controller Dr Prahlada and Project Director (PD) Akash, late Dr R R Panyam from DRDL.
"The project is currently steered by G Chandramouli, Scientist ‘H'& OS, the current PD Akash and his team. The other senior scientists who have played pivotal roles with significant contribution in making the project successful are G N Rao, Scientist ‘G', DRDL, M Vijayakumar, Scientist ‘G', Dr R V Narayana, Scientist ‘H', both from LRDE, V V Parlikar, Scientist ‘G' from R&DE (E)," says Nataraj.
BEL says the AMS teams are scattered all over India, with a project management team of around 10 officers located at BEL Bengaluru.
"We had functional teams of 75 members, including D&E, materials management, assembly, software and testing working exclusively for the project here," he says.
Role of private industry
Tata Power is one of the major partners in the programme, who are supplying the launchers, with work share arrangement between them and L&T. Astra Microwave, Hyderabad, Mak Controls, Coimbatore, Tata Motors and Icomm, Hyderabad, are few other major vendors.
There are scores of other smaller private industries contributing to the programme. MSME vendors have a significant share in the AMS project. "It's is a huge plus for us. It augurs well for all future projects we undertake," says Nataraj.
Different Akash versions
The Air Force version is built around trailers hauled by prime movers and the Army version uses BEML-Tatra vehicles for higher mobility in all terrains.
"This necessitated re-engineering. However, basically the concepts are the same. Certain modifications in electronics have been made as desirable improvements," he says.
The first regiment of Army is nearing completion and the second one would be completed ahead of schedule by mid 2016. At the show, BEL is exhibiting the Army version of AMS.
Akash Missile System was developed as part of the IGMDP (Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme); initiated by DRDO under Dr A P J Abdul Kalam's command.
Various labs under DRDO and few Industry partners like BEL, BDL and Ordnance Factories were roped in for the programme. DRDO labs including DRDL, LRDE, RCI, and R&DE (E) have worked in tandem with the Industry partners.
The successful trials of prototype AMS was done in 2007. Agni and Prithvi are other successful star performers from the IGMDP block.
(Make in India Watch [MI2Watch] is a series on OneIndia focusing on the aerospace and defence might of India's private and domestic industries. It will also aim at capturing the voices of leaders spearheading various projects.)
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)