Serious doubts have been raised by air force officers about the effectiveness of the Akash missile system, according to confidential documents of the Indian Air Force (IAF) seen by HT. The surface-to-air missile system, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), consistently failed during trials, the papers show.
Surface-to-air Trishul missile system was scrapped last year. It remained at trial stage for 23 years.
Main battle tank Arjun has been undergoing trials for the past 16 years. The Russian T-90 is still the mainstay of the armoured corps.
Light combat aircraft Tejasis still at trial stage after 23 years. The date of completion for its engine has been revised from 1996 to 2009.
In March, a parliamentary standing committee on defence recommended a complete review of the structure and functioning of the DRDO.
Doubts about the medium-range Akash missile system, developed at a cost of Rs 800 crore after more than two decades of research and trials, emerged at a meeting called by the Western Air Command in Delhi last year. Sixty middle-level and senior IAF officers attended the meeting.
A presentation, based on the report of an IAF expert who had witnessed the trials, contained several startling revelations. “The IAF expert witnessed repeated cases of missile parts falling off during many trials. He recommended that the Akash missile system was not fit to be deployed,” a senior officer, who attended the presentation, told HT.
Pointing out major flaws in this missile system, developed as a part of the country’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, the report presented to the IAF officers says, “The expert noticed it took 25 minutes to load a single missile on the launcher, which rendered this missile system unfit for use in war-like situations. The night loading time would therefore automatically be twice more than daytime.”
Describing the Akash missile trials as a “disaster”, the presentation report says, “Out of 20 test trials seen by the IAF expert, the majority of them ended in a failure.”
"It was not capable of picking up low-level targets over any sea, due to multi-path reflection. The missile warhead was also not capable of engaging present-generation targets, due to repeated failures," the report says.
However, the DRDO has strongly defended the missile system. In a written response to queries by HT, the DRDO said it was "fully satisfied with the current status of trials of Akash. Currently all doubts have been cleared and resolved".
"The missile system is now complete after successful trials and the organisation is confident about its success," the DRDO added.
The IAF report criticised the DRDO and senior officials from the Ministry of Defence, saying, "There was deliberate data suppression and the IAF was pressured to either change or withdraw the report."
The report indicates that desperate moves were made during the trials to prove that the system was a success. "A radar was placed on a 13-metre-high platform for all trials, to increase the efficiency of the missile system artificially, which would not be the case in hostile conditions of war," it says.
Cautioning the IAF on the limitations of the Akash missile system, the report says, "In its present status, Project Akash cannot meet the operational requirements of the IAF, due to major design flaws, and if the IAF wanted to use this particular missile system, then it would have to lower its acceptability standards."
The DRDO, however, said the Akash missile system had an edge over other systems due to its multi-target handling capacity, being a fully automatic system. It said since the system was completely indigenous, it could be quickly upgraded within the country.