The Union Cabinet has approved exporting the indigenous Akash air defence missile, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on Wednesday, without divulging which countries had been cleared to receive the missile.
Business Standard learns the government is pursuing sales to south east Asian countries that are wary of Chinese aggression, including Vietnam and the Philippines. In addition, the government is addressing interest from several African countries.
The Akash is a surface-to-air missile system that can detect and track enemy aircraft at long ranges and shoot down within a radius of 25 kilometres. It was inducted in 2014 in the Indian Air Force (IAF) and in 2015 in the Indian Army. The Army has bought four units of Akash and the IAF has seven units.
“The Cabinet approves export of Akash missile system and creates a committee for faster approval of exports under the Atmanirbhar Bharat (scheme). India is growing in its capabilities of manufacturing (a) wide variety of defence platforms and missiles,” tweeted MoD spokesperson Bharat Bhushan Babu.
To facilitate faster export approvals for such weapons platforms, the MoD announced the creation of a high-level committee, comprising the defence minister, foreign minister and the national security advisor.
“This committee would authorise exports of major indigenous platforms… (and) would also explore various available options including (sales through) the government-to-government route,” stated the MoD.
“The Government of India intends to focus on exporting high-value defence platforms, to achieve its target of $5 billion in defence exports and (will also) improve strategic relations with friendly foreign countries,” it said.
The Akash is a major galvanizer of the missile production ecosystem around Hyderabad. Bharat Electronics is the lead integrator for the IAF Akash squadrons, while Bharat Dynamics is the lead integrator for the Army order. Many of the Akash’s sub-systems have been outsourced to private industries.
“Akash is (one of the) country’s important missiles with over 96 per cent indigenisation,” stated the MoD.
The Akash missile has an unusual design, being a solid-fuel, ducted ramjet missile. Normally, the propellant in a solid-fuel rocket includes all the oxygen needed for complete combustion, since rockets are often required to work in oxygen-free environments, or where it is not feasible to externally supply all the oxygen needed for complete combustion.
A solid-fuel, ducted ramjet, in contrast, is more weight-efficient, since the fuel contains only 20 per cent of the oxygen needed to burn completely. The remaining 80 per cent is obtained by bringing air into the combustion chamber through an intake duct and mixing it with the partially-burnt fuel, providing it the rest of the oxygen it needs. It is called a ramjet because the air is rammed into the combustion chamber by the missile’s supersonic speed.
Over the years, the Defence R&D Organisation has incrementally improved the capabilities of the Akash. In September 2016, the MoD sanctioned a Rs 470 crore project to develop an improved version called the Akash–Next Generation, according to the 30th report of the 16th Lok Sabha’s Standing Committee on Defence.
Further capability enhancements were reported by the government, when it informed Parliament on November 27, 2019, that instead of buying short-range surface-to-air missiles (SRSAMs) from the global market, the Akash system would be upgraded into the Akash Prime. This would be more compact, have a better seeker and be capable of engaging targets coming in from any direction, including in high altitudes and low temperatures.
Some of these capabilities might not be deployed on the systems being sold abroad. “The export version of Akash will be different from the system currently deployed with the Indian Armed Forces,” stated the MoD.