Akash Air Defence Missile– India’s Formidable Weapon System

Air Powe Asia, Anil Chopra, Akash Missile System, DRDO, IAF, Indian Army,

Akash is a medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile defence system developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and produced by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) for Missile Systems, Bharat Electronics (BEL), Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division and Larsen & Toubro for radars, control centres, launcher systems. The Akash New Generation missile system can target aircraft up to 50–60 km away, and at altitudes up to 18,000 m. It has the capability to neutralize aerial targets like fighter jets, cruise missiles as well as ballistic missiles. It is in operational service with the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force.

An Akash battery comprises a single Rajendra 3D passive electronically scanned array radar and four launchers with three missiles each, all of which are interlinked. Each battery can track up to 64 targets and attack up to 12 of them. The missile has a 60 kg high-explosive, pre-fragmented warhead with a proximity fuse. The system is fully mobile and capable of protecting a moving convoy of vehicles. The launch platform has been integrated with both wheeled and tracked vehicles. While the Akash system has primarily been designed as an air defence SAM, it also has been tested in a missile defence role. The system provides air defence missile coverage for an area of 2,000 km2.

Akash Missile firing Tests. Image Source: oneindia.com

Akash Unit Composition

Each Akash battery consists of four self-propelled Launchers with 3 Akash SAMs each. A Battery Level Radar (BLR), the Rajendra, and a Command post called the Battery Control Centre. Two batteries are deployed as a Squadron in the Indian Air Force. Four batteries form an Akash Group in Indian Army. In both type of formations, an extra Group Control Centre (GCC) is added, which acts as the Command and Control HQ of the Squadron or Group. Based on a single mobile platform, GCC establishes links with Battery Control Centres and conducts air defence operations in coordination with air defence set up in a zone of operations. For early warning, the GCC relies on the 3D Central Acquisition Radar (CAR). However, individual batteries can also be deployed with the cheaper, 2-D BSR (Battery Surveillance Radar) with a range of over 100 km.

Image Source: fullafterburner.weebly.com

Automated Functioning and Engagement

The 3D CAR automatically starts tracking targets at a distance of around 150 km providing early warning to the system and operators. The target track information is transferred to GCC. GCC automatically classifies the target. BSR starts tracking targets around a range of 100 km. This data is transferred to GCC. The GCC performs multi-radar tracking of up to 200 targets and carries out track correlation & data fusion. Target position information is sent to the BLR which uses this information to acquire the targets.

The BCC which can engage target(s) from the selected list at the earliest point of time is assigned the target in real time by the GCC. The availability of missiles and the health of the missiles are also taken into consideration during this process. Fresh targets are assigned as and when intercepts with assigned targets are completed. A single shot kill probability of 88% has been achieved by the system taking into consideration various parameters of the sensors, guidance command, missile capabilities and kill zone computations.

3D CAR Radar. Image Source: DRDO

Physical Deployment

There are a number of possibilities for deploying Akash weapon system in autonomous mode and in group mode for neutralizing the threat profiles with defined multi-target engagement scenarios. In the Group mode there can be number of configurations to defend vulnerable areas depending upon nature and expected threat pattern, characteristics of threat. Similarly, multiple batteries in autonomous mode can be deployed to defend vulnerable areas/points. In a Group formation, the four Batteries can be deployed in various geometric formations, as suited to the vulnerable area being protected and the extent desired to be sanitized from enemy air threat. In a box deployment pattern, an Akash group can defend an area of 62 km x 62 km. In a linear array configuration, it covers an area of 98 km x 44 km. Trapezoidal configuration gives defence to the largest area as compared to any other pattern of deployment covering an area of size 5000 square km. Communications between the various vehicles are a combination of wireless and wired links. The entire system is designed to be set up quickly and to be highly mobile for high survivability. The Akash system can be deployed by rail, road or air.

Typical Army Group Deployment. Image Source: fullafterburner.weebly.com

Simultaneous Engagement

Each Akash battery can engage up to four targets simultaneously with 24 ready to fire missiles. Each battery has four launchers with three missiles, while each Rajendra is able to guide eight missiles in total, with a maximum of two missiles per target. Up to a maximum of four targets can be engaged simultaneously by a typical battery with a single Rajendra if one (or two) missile is allotted per target. A single Akash missile has an 88% probability of kill. Two missiles can be fired, five seconds apart, to raise the probability of Kill to 98.5%.

The Missile

Akash missile has an intercept range of 30 km. It has a launch weight of 720 kg, a diameter of 35 cm and a length of 5.78 metres. Akash flies at supersonic speed, reaching around Mach 2.5. It can reach an altitude of 18 km and can be fired from both tracked and wheeled platforms. An on-board guidance system coupled with an actuator system makes the missile manoeuvrable up to 15g loads and a tail chase capability for end game engagement. A digital proximity fuse is coupled with a 55 kg pre-fragmented warhead, while the safety arming and detonation mechanism enables a controlled detonation sequence. A self-destruct device is also integrated. It is propelled by an Integrated Ramjet Rocket Engine. The use of a ramjet propulsion system enables sustained speeds without deceleration throughout its flight. The Missile has command guidance in its entire flight.

Akash Missile. Image Source: DRDO

The design of the missile is somewhat similar to that of the SA-6 with four long tube ramjet inlet ducts mounted mid-body between wings. For pitch/yaw control four clipped triangular moving wings are mounted on the mid-body. For roll control four inline clipped delta fins with ailerons are mounted before the tail. The internal schematic layout includes an onboard digital computer, seeker, and propellant, actuators and command guidance data-links. The Akash carries an onboard radio-proximity fuse. Composite technology is used in radome assemblies, booster liners, ablative liners, sustainer liners, and compression moulded wings and fins.

Propulsion

The Akash, like the Russian 2K12 Kub (SA-6 Gainful), utilizes an integrated ramjet-rocket propulsion system, which, after initial rocket motor burnout, provides sustained thrust for the missile throughout its flight until interception.

Radars

The missile is guided by a phased array fire control radar called ‘Rajendra’ with a tracking range of about 60 km. The tracking and missile guidance radar configuration consists of a slew-able phased array antenna of more than 4000 elements, spectrally pure TWT transmitter, two stage super-heterodyne correlation receiver for three channels, high speed digital signal processor, real time management computer and a powerful radar data processor. It can track 64 targets in range, azimuth and height and guide eight missiles simultaneously in ripple fire mode towards four targets. The radar has advanced ECCM features. The Rajendra derivative on a BMP-2 chassis and to be used by the Indian Air Force is known as the Battery Level Radar-II whereas that for the Army, is based on a T-72 chassis and is known as the Battery Level Radar-III.

Rajendra Radar. Image Source: .drdo.gov.in

The Army version also consists of the Battery Surveillance Radar (BSR). BSR is a track vehicle based, long range sensor, interfaced with the BCC. It can detect and track up to 40 targets in range and azimuth up to a range of 100 km.

Akash missile system mounted on a T-72 MBT tracked chassis. Image Source: armyrecognition.com

Long range target acquisition is performed by the 3D Central Acquisition Radar (3D CAR), which is a long range surveillance radar that can track up to 200 targets in Track while Scan mode (detecting, tracking and processing) in three dimensions at a range of 180 km. It provides azimuth, range and height coordinates of targets to the Group Control Centre (GCC) through secure communication links. The data is used to cue the weapon control radar.

Akash missile system mounted on a modified BMP-1 tracked chassis. Image Source: armyrecognition.com

Army Mounting Platforms

The Army’s radar and launchers are based on the T-72 chassis built by the Ordnance Factory Medak so as to accompany the Army’s fast moving armoured formations. Both the Army and Air Force launchers have three ready-to-fire Akash missiles each. The launchers can slew in both elevation and azimuth. The Army Self-Propelled Launcher (ASPL) is 360 degrees slewable and its arc in elevation is from 6 to 60 degrees.

Akash Missiles on a BMP-2 chassis. Image Source: Wikipedia

The Air Force Mounting Platform

The Air Force versions use a combination of tracked and wheeled vehicle. The Air Force Akash launcher consists of a detachable trailer which is towed by an Ashok Leyland truck, and which can be positioned autonomously. The Air Force launcher is designed by Larsen & Toubro jointly with DRDO. The Akash Air Force Launcher (AAFL) is 360 degree slewable, in elevation it can fire from 8 to 75 degrees in all directions depending on the mode of deployment. Akash Air force launcher features an electro servo drive system for fully automated and remote operation.

Image Source: fullafterburner.weebly.com

Support Specialist Vehicles

To enable the Akash group to perform self-sufficient in the combat zone, a number of supporting specialist vehicles have been designed and developed. They are mobile and field-worthy. Their design is based on the role and task to be performed and the vehicles are accordingly allocated to the Group HQ, the Batteries, Assembly Line Area and the Field maintenance workshop. These vehicles are, the Missile Transportation Vehicle (MTV), the Transportation and Loading Vehicle (TLV), the Mobile Station for Missile Checkout (MSMC) Vehicle, the Air Compressor Vehicle (ACV), the Power Supply vehicles (GPSV, BPSV), the Engineering Support, Maintenance and Repair vehicles (GEM, BEM) and a few others. These specialist vehicles assemble and prepare missiles, deliver them to Batteries, carry maintenance spares and fuel, and provide logistical engineering support. Their allocation provides for flexibility and self-sufficiency to the whole Akash Group.

Image Source: fullafterburner.weebly.com

Development and history

The first test flight of Akash missile (Mark 1) was conducted in 1990, with development flights up to March 1997. Two Akash missiles intercepted two fast moving targets in simultaneous engagement mode in 2005. 3-D Central Acquisition Radar (3D-CAR) group mode performance is also fully established. The Akash Missile Development cost of ₹ 1,000 crore ($200 million), including the project sanction of ₹ 600 crore ($120 million). This figure is 8-10 times lower than the cost of similar system developments in other countries. Akash has certain unique characteristics like mobility, all-the-way-powered flight till target interception, multiple target handling, digitally-coded command guidance and fully automatic operation.

Akash missile successfully test fired in very low altitude near boundary mission from the Integrated Test Range, Balasore, Odisha on June 18, 2014. Image Source: Wikipedia

Akash-1S Variant

There was a need for a missile with a seeker that could target inbound targets more accurately for which DRDO offered an upgraded Akash with an indigenous seeker named Akash-1S. DRDO tested Akash-1S on 25 May and 27 May 2019 with a strike range of 30 km that has the capability to carry warhead of 60 kg from Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur, Odisha. Akash-1S was fired five times against multiple targets and successfully completed the trials. It supports the combination of both command and active terminal seeker guidance to enhance the single shot kill probability and is capable of striking down fighter jets and drones at a distance of around 18 to 30 km.

Akash-1S missile test on 27 May 2019. Image Source: Wikipedia

Akash Mark-II

The Akash Mk-II is a longer-range, faster and more accurate SAM. The missile will have an intercept range of 40 km and increase in the accuracy of the missile’s guidance system and the fire control system. On 27 May 2019, DRDO successfully test-fired the new version of the Akash, with a new indigenously-developed seeker.

Akash-NG

A successor missile called Akash – New Generation (Akash-NG) was approved in September 2016 with a funding of ₹470 crore (US$76 million) to succeed Akash and Akash-1S with improved capabilities. Akash-NG will have an improved reaction time and higher level of protection against saturation attacks. The second stage uses dual-pulse solid rocket motor which is lighter instead of air-breathing solid ramjet engine to increase the overall range from current 40 km to greater than 80 km. It has an active electronically scanned array Multi-Function Radar (MFR) and optical proximity fuze.

Costing

Each missile reportedly costs below ₹20 million (US$500,000), which is less than half the cost of similar Western missiles which usually cost between US$1.2-1.5 million each. The cost will further decrease due to the economies of scale when production ramps up. The Indian military (IAF & IA) have a combined order worth ₹23,300 crore ($5.18 billion). India has ramped up production to around 100 per month from earlier 50 to 60.

Night launch of Akash missile in Vayu Shakti Exercise 2019. Image Source: Wikipedia

Service Induction – IAF

The IAF tested the missile against a low-flying near-range target, long-range high-altitude target, crossing and approaching target, and ripple firing of two missiles from the same launcher against a low-altitude receding target. Order for the first two squadrons was placed initially in 2009. In January 2010, IAF ordered 6 more squadrons. Each squadron consisted of 125 missiles, bringing the order to 750 missiles for 6 squadrons. The additional missiles were ordered from state-run defence behemoth Bharat Electronics, which acts as the system integrator. On 3 March 2012, the missile system was officially inducted into IAF at a function at Hyderabad. On 10 July 2015, the Akash surface-to-air missile was formally inducted in the Indian Air Force at Gwalior. On 1 September 2015, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) cleared the purchase of seven additional squadrons of the Akash missile for the Indian Air Force. On 8 March 2016, IAF demonstrated the missile at the exercise Iron Fist 2016. IAF orders may rise as it phases out its Pechoras and if the Indo-Israeli JV to develop an MRSAM (Medium Range SAM) for the IAF has delays. The IAF has reportedly deployed Akash at its bases in Gwalior, Hasimara, Tezpur, Jorhat, and Pune.

CAG Report

A Comptroller and Auditor General report released in 2017 stated that 30 percent of the developmental missiles have failed when test fired. Of the twenty missiles fired, two missiles failed to launch due to booster nozzle failure and the rest had lower than required velocity or fell short of their target. In addition, due to lack of adequate storage facilities, the life span of the missiles have been lowered by three years. However, on 3 December 2020, the IAF carried out 10 missile firing at Suryalanka firing range to bolster its capability among ongoing Indo-Sino border tension. The missiles were fired to validate different scenario and majority of the missiles scored a direct kill further establishing the efficacy of Akash missile.

Service Induction – Indian Army

In June 2010, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) placed an order of the Akash missile system, valued at ₹12,500 crore ($2.8 billion). Bharat Dynamics (BDL) was designated the system integrator and nodal production agency for the Akash Army variant. The Army initially plans to induct two regiments of the missile. On 11 to 13 April 2015, Indian Army successfully conducted six rounds of user trials of the missile. The tests were conducted from complex 3 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipuri in Odisha. The missiles targeted pilot less target aircraft (PTA) Lakshya, unmanned air vehicle (UAV) ‘Banshee’ and a para barrel target, two times each. The Army version was inducted on 5 May 2015.

Image Source: pt.slideshare.net/hindujudaic/akash

On 30 March 2016, Indian Army stated that Akash area defence missile systems did not meet its operational requirements for defending its strike corps against enemy air attacks in forward areas, and was not ordering any more regiments. The Army instead was opting for four Israeli quick reaction SAM regiments. On 30 November 2017, Indian Army successfully tested fired five Akash missiles at Integrated Test Range (ITR) against multiple targets. Indian Army has reportedly deployed Akash air defence system along Line of Actual Control in Ladakh as tension rose between India and China 2020 China–India skirmishes.

Export

Media reports indicate that Philippines, Belarus, Malaysia, Thailand, UAE and Vietnam have shown interest in purchasing the Akash missile system. On 30 December 2020, Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chaired by PM Narendra Modi cleared the exports of Akash missile defence system.

Akash NG in Cannisters. Image Source: Noah Parkar @noahgodwin13

Storage/Operational configuration Akash NG

Akash-1 and Akash-1S missiles are being stored in pressurised containers as they are deployed only during exercises or wartime. The IAF preferred to have cannister-encased missiles in ready-to-fire configuration (like the Barak-8 MR-SAM and Barak-8ER LR-SAM) since the IAF’s Akash-NG Squadrons are required to provide 24/7 and year-round air-defence coverage and hence the usage of fully exposed Akash-1/Akash-1S missiles becomes maintenance-heavy and costly to maintain in serviceable condition. Each Akash-NG Squadron will include the ADTCR acting as the medium-power radar (derived from the Arudhra MPR’s design), the BSR and the BMFR—an arrangement similar to that adopted for the QR-SAM.

The Ku-band ‘Netra’ active radar seeker and RF-based proximity fuze for Akash-NG has been designed and developed by the DRDO’s Hyderabad-based Research Centre Imarat (RCI), while series-production will be undertaken by the KALYANI Group.

Akash NG and Akash 1S. Image Source: reddit.com Posted by justanotherlazy

Way Ahead

         Akash is the first indigenous SAM inducted into Indian Armed Forces. On 24 December 2020 it was reported that DRDO has successfully conducted the first launch of the medium range surface to air missile (MRSAM) for the Indian Armed Forces. It is the land based configuration of the Barak 8 missile. The Indian Army ordered five regiments of this version, which consists of about 40 launchers and 200 missiles for ₹17,000 crore (US$2.4 billion). It is expected to be deployed by 2023 with first deliveries commencing in 2021. An ER (extended range) variant of the Barak 8 is under development, which will see the missile’s maximum range increased to 150 km.

DRDO MRSAM. Image Source: armyrecognition.com

DRDO developed QRSAM as part of replacement program for the Soviet era 9K33 Osa and 2K12 Kub with the Indian Army and Indian Air Force. It has an engagement range of minimum 3 km to a maximum of 30 km that is powered by solid fuel propellant, maintaining a speed of 4.7 Mach in flight. On 13 November 2020, DRDO successfully conducted test fire of the system and achieved a major milestone by a direct hit on to a Banshee pilot-less target aircraft at medium range and medium altitude. On 17 November 2020, DRDO successfully test-fired the missile with a live warhead for the first time.

The ABM project has two missiles—namely the AAD (Advanced Air Defence) and PAD (Prithvi Air Defence) missiles. The former is an endo-atmospheric interceptor of new design, which can intercept targets to a height of 30 km. The latter is a modified Prithvi missile, dubbed the Axo-atmospheric interceptor (AXO) with a dedicated second stage kill vehicle for ballistic missile interception, up to an altitude of 80 km. Both these missiles are cued by an active phased array Long Range Tracking Radar, similar to the Elta GreenPine but made with locally developed components, which include DRDO-developed transmit/receive modules. The ABM system also makes use of a second radar, known as the Multi-Function Control Radar which assists the LRTR in classifying the target, and can also act as the fire control radar for the AAD missile. The MFCR, like the LRTR, is an active phased array system.

DRDO is also working on critical technologies for future longer range surface-to-air missile systems. Solid Fuel Ducted Ramjet (SFDR) is one such missile propulsion technology that uses thrust modulated ducted rocket with a reduced smoke nozzle-less missile booster.

Indian Armed Forces have huge AD Weapon system requirements. The time for action is now. Time to get the Act right DRDO.

Header Picture Source: indiatvnews.com

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

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