Express Investigation: Delayed Research; Delayed Organisation – Part – Two
Armed Forces wait as showpiece missiles are unguided, way off mark
Amitav Ranjan Posted: Mon Nov 13 2006, 00:00 hrs NEW DELHI, NOVEMBER 12:
It is the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s most prestigious undertaking. Yet the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) remains a venture matchless for its repeated and expensive failures.
Of the five missile families that the DRDO announced at the IGMDP launch in July 1983, two ballistic missiles, the tactical Prithvi and long-range Agni, have been inducted into the Services. But investigation by The Indian Express reveals that even these are far from operational readiness. Among the other three missiles, the situation is worse.
DRDO claims its first success, Prithvi-I, is fully operational. However, the missiles were forced upon the Army even before crucial terminal accuracy trials were complete, according to a 2003 report by one of DRDO’s own top scientists. Even now, despite DRDO’s claims, the Army does not rely on the Prithvi as an effective deterrent and cannot do so unless serious technological issues affecting launch preparedness are resolved.
Former deputy director of the Prithvi project and now DRDO’s chief controller of missiles and strategic systems Dr V K Saraswat’s report RCI/PGT/PGM/1 admits: “Accuracy of missiles like Prithvi is acceptable in surface-to-surface theatre role, but precision strike without collateral damage is not possible with this system.”
Agni-I and Agni-II, the only strategic delivery systems in the Army’s arsenal, are considered risky. DRDO has told the Parliamentary panel, in testimonies available to The Indian Express, that the missiles have been successfully tested five times. What it conveniently leaves unsaid is the fact that this is out of at least 10 tests. Either way, the Army feels a handful of tests is not enough to prove a missile’s worth.
The Agni-III, which plunged into the sea after just five minutes of flight in July, will be tested again only towards mid-2007 as the teams at DRDL and the Integrated Test Range in Chandipur try to unravel the disaster.
As for the remaining three, anti-missile system Trishul is a closed chapter proving to be only a technology demonstrator, by former Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s own recent admission, after it was decided that persistent beam guidance glitches could not be put behind the project.
Even though the system’s radar is ready and functional, the Trishul team has never been able to correct the missile’s flawed trajectory — in all tests it has escaped out of its envelope. The project’s manpower has already been distributed among PSU Bharat Dynamics Ltd in Hyderabad, the Indo-Israeli Barak-II next generation missile project, the Project Nag and the submarine-launched missile, designated K-15.
A notional one-year extension granted to the project till December 2007, after hectic lobbying, is being seen as an outrage by the Army and Navy.
The Akash medium range surface-to-air missile, which DRDO publicly claims “is in the process of induction” will, according to the Ministry in testimony to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, only begin Phase-II user trials in December on a T-72 platform, a change that could pile up the massive time overrun further.
An exasperated IAF, which calls Phase-I user trials unsatisfactory, has decided to buy Israeli Spyder missile systems instead.
Realisation of the ramjet propulsion system has crippled the Akash programme, which continues to flounder when the missile is fired at its ceiling range of 25 to 27 km. The IAF, in fact, has certified the missile to a range of just 16-18-km, virtually declaring it a dud at maximum capacity. Officers in the IAF fear the Akash may go the Trishul way, but Natarajan claims: “The Akash missile defence system has been successful.”
The third missile, the anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) Nag, which DRDO brags as an “imminent success,” has not been accepted by the Army. After 57 flight trials, it has encountered unforeseen problems with its Imaging Infrared (IIR) seeker, rendering it inaccurate until the seeker is properly miniaturized for use. User trials are slated for June-December 2007. Saraswat’s report calls for integrating Nag’s seeker with Prithvi to make the latter a precision-guided munition (PGM) but that hasn’t worked either, since the Nag’s seeker is far from ready.
The result: After over two decades of research in seeker technology and expenditure of upto an estimated Rs 800 crore, all Indian missiles, even the Indo-Russian BrahMos,fly with foreign seekers. This is especially troubling since the North Korean and Chinese missiles are known to fly with far superior terminal guidance technologies.
The IGMDP should have wrapped up each of the projects by December 1995 using Rs 388.83 crore, but it got a 10-year extension from the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao after the then DRDO chief APJ Abdul Kalam managed to convince him that only a two-three year extension was not acceptable. Its revised funding: Rs 1771.43 crore, a budgetary overrun of Rs 1,382.6 crore. The time line has been further extended to December 2007 under the current chief M Natarajan.
“The Akash was to come at a certain time, and it didn’t. I had to change everything to make up for the delay.”
Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi
“It was a troubling scenario. On the one hand, DRDO assured us of Trishul’s success, and on the other our Western fleet was sitting completely vulnerable to a Pak missile attack.”
Admiral Sushil Kumar (retd)