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Women’s Day Special: Akash Missile System propelled by BEL’s women power

By Dr Anantha Krishnan M

Bengaluru, March 7: This piece of news should inspire Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is pushing for Naari Shakthi (women power) to propel India's growth.

The Akash Missile System (AMS), under the command of the Indian Air Force (IAF) now, saw women playing significant roles during various stages of its development and trials, leading to its induction. These go-getters from Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), have proven that they are on par with men, who hitherto hogged all the limelight.


During an interaction with OneIndia, on the eve of International Women's Day, the women who powered the AMS were univocal in their views that BEL always gave its women employees and executives challenging assignments to prove their worth.'

As a result, the mighty women brigade of BEL matched men on all the domains, be it in Design, Project Management, Procurement, Manufacturing, Quality Assurance, Testing and Customer Support.

In addition to their large representation from Bengaluru units, women from BEL's Ghaziabad, Panchkula and Chennai wings too contributed significantly to the success of AMS.

Role of women in Akash project

The IAF has inducted two Squadrons of AMS and are likely to procure additional seven more squadrons, making it a clear winner in the Make in India mission. The women workforce from BEL played a key role in the following areas:

• Development of mission-critical software for combat vehicles.

• Qualification testing of radars and command centers.

• Rigorous performance validation of missile system for interface and integrated functions.

• Integration testing of AMS for various complex combat scenarios.

• Calibration and accuracy monitoring of various technical parameters with live flying.

• Firing trials to validate the performance of the ground systems and missiles.

• Installation, commissioning and training the user on operation and maintenance of AMS.

• Customer support.

The women executives were led by N Manjula Devi, Deputy General Manager, Testing. The team was involved in the planning and execution of flight trials of Akash in close cordination with the customer representatives and Design agencies.

Nataraj Krishnappa, General Manager (Missile Systems), BEL, told OneIndia that the women team members were involved in many complex activities of AMS.

"During the finalization of the critical flight path and post-flight data analysis, these women had to be in remote locations. Sometimes, the job demanded them to be present during odd hours and even in hostile environmental conditions. I am happy that the team commanded by Manjula did a commendable job. They were successful in the completion of Site Acceptance Test, installation and commissioning of AMS at the user site," says Nataraj.


Team leader had to outsource some work at home

For Manjula, working in the Akash project is the most satisfying part of her career at BEL.

"Firstly, because AMS aids our defense forces to protect our county. Secondly, it is a complex, first of its kind in India to be indigenously designed and developed. Working in Akash project is very exciting as every activity is a first-time challenge," says Manjula, a mother of two.

She admits that managing work-life balance was a huge challenge for her. "I am lucky that I got good support from my family. We outsourced certain routine and trivial activities on the home front, which enabled me to undertake frequent outstation assignments, during the project execution phase," says Manjula.

Witnessing Akash hitting the target thrilled her

The missile's firing trials were a real test for Manjula's physical and mental endurance. She was part of the team which was responsible for ensuring the system readiness for the mission.

It meant meticulous planning and execution and close coordination with various vendors, design agencies and users.

"Post mission data analysis, we had to carry out modifications. Validation of changes was a challenging task and we stayed awake late into many nights under extreme weather conditions. But, witnessing the successful live firing of the missile and it destroying the Banshee target (at 35m height) bang on will always remain as one of the most proudest moments in my life," adds Manjula.

Manjula was chosen to lead the team for Site Acceptance Test (SAT) of first Squadron of AMS for the IAF. This involved simultaneous operation of 18 combat vehicles to perform missile system operation.

"Successful execution of the activity increased my confidence level to a great extent. I was also fortunate to be the leader of the commissioning team that successfully completed the installation and commissioning of first two squadrons of Akash. This was another proud moment for me," she said.

She also credits the success to her male colleagues who guided and groomed her at various stages of the mission.

Pushpa, Senior DGM from Development and Engineering wing said that the Akash missile's Pokhran trials were truly memorable.

"I was the only woman from BEL present during the Pokhran Mobility Trials. It was a matter of great pride for me. My heart-felt joy after mobility trials in hot weather (in Pokhran) and successful firing trials in peak winter (in Balasore) can never be expressed in words. The experiences from these trials taught me and my team many lessons," says Pushpa.

As the Division Head of Radar Signal Processing core group in BEL, Sarala B, a Senior DGM, felt that the firing trials gave her immense confidence and trust in the performance of the AMS.

"In spite of the severe flight conditions and critical flight exercises during the trials, the AMS undoubtedly performed to the maximum limit. I am really honoured to have worked for this outstanding project. It inspires me to achieve more in future," opines Sarala.


Women can take on any challenges now

According to Devika, DGM from a group which designed and developed simulators for Akash project, it was a general norm in the past that the women were not assigned high-profile responsibilities.

"Times have changed and today women are assigned challenging responsibilities. Women have gained trust and credibility by fulfilling the responsibilities with utmost dedication, commitment and care. This was evident during AMS Project implementation. We have never felt low, inferior or feared failures at any point," says Devika.

For Aparna Shastri, Manager, Quality Assurance, the biggest challenge was to ensure compliance of all the vendors involved in the project.

"The most defining moment for me was witnessing the successful Akash firing trials at ITR Chandipur, where all our subsystems and systems were validated for their best performance, thereby realising the project objectives and meeting the user requirements," recalls Aparna.

Officers like Amriena Tabassum B K carried out the challenging task of flying in helicopters for validating the command guidance of missile. Members from the Software Development Team including Sugandha, Deputy Manager and Jayanthi, Senior Engineer, too expressed their satisfaction having worked for the AMS project.

Finally, it was the turn of one of the youngest engineers in the project Akshatha J Kini from Development and Engineering section, to air her views.

"Breathing life into a seemingly abstract concept by designing a board-based system used for the guidance of Akash missile was a challenge which I enjoyed as an engineer. Seeing the efforts lead to fruition during the successful missile firing trials at Balasore last year was an immensely proud moment for me. I felt proud for having contributed my small bit for our armed forces," says Akshatha.

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)

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