Forty test-fires are done and nearly Rs 500 crore have been burnt, but the Akash missile is yet to get the final nod for the skies.
In three days last week, the medium-range, surface-to-air, nuclear capable missile was test-fired as many times from the Chandipur Integrated Test Range in Orissa and scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are waiting for the Indian Air Force’s nod for Akash’s induction.
The missile’s development, according to a note by Defence Minister AK Antony, cost the exchequer Rs 492.41 crore. Yet, the weapon system has not passed the user trials. After the latest test-fires between December 13 and 15, DRDO scientists said they were satisfied with the performance and were optimistic that the IAF would finally give the green signal. “If there is any further need, more tests would be done,” one senior DRDO scientist said. The air force, however, has not given the DRDO an easy time, nor has the defence minister.
In a written reply on May 10, Antony told the Lok Sabha that “representatives of the Indian Air Force had participated in the development trials of the Akash Missile System, conducted by the DRDO, as observers and provided user’s inputs for improvement in the system's performance. Some trials at the development stage had not been fully successful. User’s trials are likely to commence shortly”. Regarding the amount of money spent on the missile, he told the Lok Sabha, again in a written reply on August 29 that “as on July 31, 2007, an amount of Rs 492.41 crore” had been spent on the development of the missile.
He mentioned, though, that “the Indian Air Force has not declined the induction of the Akash medium range surface-to air missile”.
The much-awaited user trials in the presence of IAF personnel have also happened in Chandipur. A senior scientist associated with the tests said: “The decisions on induction of the missile into the IAF is not taken by us. We can, however, tell you that the tests have met all the mission objectives and we are completely satisfied with the post-flight results of the missiles.”