India’s Akash surface-to-air missile system: a global sensation in defence technology with recent triumph in Armenia

The Akash system, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and produced by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), is a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system designed to engage and neutralize enemy aircraft, helicopters, and drones at various altitudes.

India is poised to enhance its defence collaboration with Armenia by exporting its indigenous Akash anti-air missile system. The deal, valued at approximately ₹6,000 crores, marks a significant step in strengthening the defence ties between the two nations.

The Akash system, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and produced by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), is a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system designed to engage and neutralize enemy aircraft, helicopters, and drones at various altitudes.

This export agreement comes amidst an expanding array of defence-related transactions between India and Armenia. The list of exported military equipment to Armenia already includes multi-barrel rocket launchers, artillery guns, a variety of ammunition, and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). The Akash anti-air systems, already in active service with the Indian Armed Forces, are expected to be delivered to Armenia in the near future.

India’s proactive approach to defence exports is not limited to Armenia, as similar offers have been extended to other countries in Asia, such as Vietnam and the Philippines. This signifies a broader strategy by India to establish itself as a reliable supplier of defence equipment in the international arena.

In April, the defence ministry acknowledged an undisclosed export order for the anti-air system, refraining from disclosing the identity of the receiving nation. This highlights the confidentiality often associated with such defence agreements.

Additionally, in March, the Indian Army took a significant step in bolstering its air defence capabilities by procuring two additional regiments of the Akash anti-air system. This procurement deal amounted to ₹8,160 crores, indicating a substantial investment in strengthening the country’s defence capabilities.

These developments underscore India’s commitment to both enhancing its domestic defence capabilities and expanding its role as a reliable supplier of defence equipment on the international stage. The undisclosed export order aligns with the broader strategy of India to establish strategic defence partnerships with various nations, while the domestic procurement demonstrates the prioritization of advanced air defence systems for the nation’s security.

The enhanced version of the Akash anti-air system, designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), boasts several improvements. These include a reduced physical footprint, enabling more flexible deployment options. Notably, the system now features a 360° Engagement Capability, allowing it to effectively address threats from all directions. Additionally, advanced seekers have been incorporated into the system, enhancing its precision and target-tracking capabilities.

The development of this improved version reflects a concerted effort to leverage cutting-edge technology and innovation in the realm of air defence. A key aspect of this project is its notable indigenous content, with 82% of the system being locally sourced and produced. This underscores India’s commitment to self-reliance in defence manufacturing, reducing dependency on imports.

Moreover, the project’s approach involves significant collaboration with the private industry, including Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Sixty per cent of the project cost is allocated to the private sector, fostering a robust and diversified supply chain for the Akash system. This strategy not only stimulates the growth of the domestic defence industry but also ensures a more resilient and self-sustaining ecosystem for the production and maintenance of the anti-air system.

The announcement of a $155 million deal by Kalyani Strategic Systems in November of the previous year, with an undisclosed overseas customer for artillery guns, aligns with the broader trend of India’s defence exports to Armenia. The artillery gun order mentioned is part of the growing defence collaboration between India and Armenia.

AKASH (missile)

The Akash missile system, with the name translating to ‘Sky’ in Hunterian, is a medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) system developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL). Key components, including the Surveillance and Fire control radar, tactical control and command centre, and missile launcher, have been developed by Bharat Electronics (BEL), Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division, and Larsen & Toubro.

Capable of targeting aircraft up to 45 km away, the Akash missile system possesses the ability to neutralize a variety of aerial threats, including fighter jets, cruise missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and ballistic missiles. Currently, in operational service with both the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force, the Akash system is a vital part of India’s air defence capabilities.

An Akash battery consists of a Rajendra 3D passive electronically scanned array radar and four launchers, each equipped with three missiles, all interconnected. The system can track up to 64 targets and engage up to 12 simultaneously. The missile itself is equipped with a 60 kg high-explosive, pre-fragmented warhead featuring a proximity fuse. Offering full mobility, the Akash system is capable of safeguarding a moving convoy of vehicles, with the launch platform integrated into both wheeled and tracked vehicles.

While primarily designed as an air defence SAM, the Akash system has undergone testing in a missile defence role as well. Its operational coverage extends to an area of 2,000 km².

INDIA ARMENIA TIES

In recent years, the India-Armenia relationship has gained significant attention due to strategic considerations, according to Abhinav Pandya, CEO of the Usanas Foundation think tank. He highlighted the pivotal role of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where the latter is supported by Pakistan and Turkey—traditional adversaries of India. Given Pakistan’s backing by Azerbaijan and Turkey on the Kashmir issue, India seeks to counter the trilateral alliance in the South Caucasus region by supplying defence equipment to Armenia, which reciprocates by supporting India on the Kashmir matter.

Additionally, Pandya emphasized India’s keen interest in defence cooperation with Armenia, primarily driven by strategic connectivity projects such as the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). The INSTC, spanning 7,200 kilometres and involving ship, rail, and road routes, aims to facilitate freight movement between India, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia, and Europe. With the INSTC facing challenges and Armenia being considered a potential alternative corridor, India aims to ensure its strategic interests in the face of possible Pakistani and Turkish influence in the region. Pandya stressed the importance of India establishing a robust presence to safeguard critical projects like the INSTC, expressing concerns about the potential difficulty if Pakistan and Turkey gain control, given Pakistan’s proficiency in insurgency tactics. Furthermore, he highlighted the international market potential for Indian indigenously manufactured defence equipment if India’s missile system tests prove successful in Armenia.