MRSAM - A Breakthrough for Army’s Air Defence Capability
Vol 11 Issue 2 May - Jun 2017
The Army’s quest to fill longstanding voids in its Air Defence capabilities
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
The COAS Gen Bipin Rawat, whilst speaking to media recently, stated that the present fleet of air defence systems, to include guns and missiles, are obsolete and that the Army is in critical need of their replacements. Army’s air defence has been found wanting for over three decades now. A consequence of over 96% of the inventory of guns, missiles and associated fighting machinery being obsolete and having outlived their life many a times over. Indian Army is now looking forward to the induction of an
Indo-Israeli developed Medium range Surface to Air missile (MR-SAM). In view of obsolescence of the in-service systems, the procurement of this much-awaited system is indeed a desperate need of the Indian Army and a long-awaited fillip to indigenous capabilities for the Indian Army. The Government of India, in March 2017, authorized DRDO to conduct the programme for “Development and Production of land based Medium Range Surface to Air Missile Systems (MRSAM)”, with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The programme entails ‘design, development, production, installation and commissioning of the MRSAM Systems into the Indian Army’s air defence’.
Status to Date
Indian Army was the first to initiate, way back in 2002, a case for MRSAM, for medium air defence coverage, for its third strike corps (the other two already have had ‘Kvadrat’ Groups since late 1970’s). In 2005, IAF had a joint procurement case with the Army but the very next year they delinked for some reason and joined the Naval project: Long Range SAM (LRSAM) through joint development between DRDO and IAI, Israel. Despite having Acceptance of Necessity (AON) for one MRSAM group from the Defence Acquisition Council in 2007, the Army’s case floundered for the next 10 years, whereas both IAF and IN projects moved faster. The process of arming of Naval ships has already begun as also the deployment of Air Force MRSAMs at their static installations.
The first MRSAM Regiment for the Army is being procured under a collaboration by DRDO with IAI Israel and the balance regiments will be procured through ‘Buy (Indian)’ category from the nominated ‘Defence Production Agency’ with participation of Indian private industry.
Preservation of Combat Potential
The requirement of MRSAM (Army), to be deployed in the combat zone is essentially different from that of IN and IAF, being mobile in nature. It fits well into the Indian Army’s concept of winning a war in a proactive environment in the shortest time possible. MRSAM (Army) will be employed in a theatre to protect own war waging machinery which would be employed to destroy the enemy’s strike and reserve elements within our own territory by the pivot corps or in the enemy territory by our strike corps. They will provide umbrella cover to offensive elements against advanced and complex threats from new generations fighters, helicopters, UAVs/UCAVs and drones etc.
Command and Control. Air defence, being a key element of land warfare, it makes sense to provide dedicated air defence cover to advancing infantry and armour, under the army’s control. Battlefield commanders cannot afford the risk of air defence elements arriving late in the combat zone. The key doctrine is for the Army to have all the resources required, to independently fight and win a full spectrum of war in the most efficient way. Coordination is perfect when resources are under control and, therefore, in the army’s right to shape the deep battle, MRSAM for the strike & pivot corps fits well into the war fighting doctrine.
MRSAM will enhance the medium range air defence coverage to various division sized battle groups, rapid reaction forces of both the pivot and strike corps and help them fight the battle independently. They will enhance the army’s ability to operate across diverse types of terrain on multiple fronts, fight isolated battles across any type of terrain, with a labyrinth of obstacles and enhance the reach deep inside the enemy territory, protected from enemy air threats. Needless to say, when required and feasible these could also be used to assist the two other services.
Capabilities of MRSAM
MRSAM (Army) will be an advanced, all weather, 3600, mobile land system that will provide missile defence against a wide variety of threats including saturation attacks and limited tactical ballistic missiles with full capability of air and surface surveillance, threat alerts and fire control in a kill zone of over 50 km in range and 20 km in height. The missile has a small and lightweight active seeker. Most of the onboard systems being compact, the signature is minimized, making it difficult for enemy air to engage it. The propulsion system with a dual pulse rocket motor enhances the missile velocity and maneuvering capability in intercepting new generation fighter aircraft and drones/UAVs with increasing capability like stealth and artificial intelligence, besides other low cost targets that could bring a very high degree of threat to the land forces. The multi-functional phased array radar, with 3D beam capability can detect targets up to a range of 300km with capabilities of surveillance, multi-target tracking, threat alerts, target assignment & launch of missiles, enhancing the quality of air defence to the ground forces. Critical elements would also have NBC protection.
Boost to ‘Make in India’ Capability
The Army’s earlier project may have faltered but the delay will result in bringing in well-defined indigenous capability with a well deliberated and calibrated approach. It will hence evolve more comprehensively after considering all drawbacks and ambiguities of the earlier contract of the IN and IAF and rectifying the same, to ensure smooth transition towards production. A very significant gain has been the transfer of technology of critical components like seeker, warhead etc. including maintenance transfer of technology. Flow of technology will lead to well defined indigenous capability. Design data share will improve the ‘Built to Print’ portion of systems/sub-systems.
Private vendors already identified by IAI for IN and IAF LRSAM/MRSAM project will ensure unhindered and timely production of the Army’s MRSAM. The participation of private industry in the Army Project will be relatively more than it was in the IN and IAF contracts, due to changes in policy. Industry will be involved in providing various components including missiles. Increased work-share coupled with the DRDO tasked to develop more systems will ensure larger private industry participation. Indigenous production of the multi-functional surveillance and a threat alert radar will substantially increase the gain in technology to Indian companies leading to enhanced capability to develop/produce the system within the country. Another benefit of the project will be that the DPSUs having developed infrastructure for production of missiles of the AF and Navy, will get a lead time to enhance their infrastructure for integration of missiles and training of manpower for production of MRSAM for the Army. It also gives opportunity to private industry to augment/introduce missile production capabilities, at least in non-niche components. The project is likely to give a major boost to the “Make in India” initiative leading to more self-reliance in sustaining the system in the long run.
A Major Step towards Jointness
Apart from optimum utilisation, economy of effort, interoperability, commonality, engineering support, the MRSAM project of Army will make common the training and depot level maintenance. It will synergise the spirit of jointness and interaction between the three services, leading to being a true harbinger of joint functioning of air defence of the three services.
The approval of MRSAM project for the Army marks a paradigm shift in capabilities of the Indian Army’s air defence and improves commonalities amongst the three services in the joint domain of the Nation’s air defence. Timely production and delivery of MRSAM to Indian Army will give a major boost in the capability of the combat forces to fight a cohesive battle, unhindered by enemy air. It is a breakthrough in the air defence capability of all the three services in general and the Army air defence in particular.