– Subodh Sharma
A Rajput class guided missile destroyer recently test fired Indigenous VL-SRSAM successfully off the coast of Orissa. This was a landmark event, as Navy has historically used imported surface to air missile systems in this category. Although, Indo-Israeli Barak 8 was the first indigenous ship based surface to air missile system but it was a jointly developed system. Additionally, Barak 8 missile system covers the longer range spectrum of 70-100 Kilometres and VL-SRSAM will be covering 20-25 Kilometre spectrum. These two surface to air missiles systems will make the air defence cover of Indian Navy’s ship “ A Two Layered Defence”.
A Rajput class guided missile destroyer can be seen in satellite pictures shown (in the figure 1). This ship is most likely INS Rana and it has gone through a modification run at Hindustan shipyard limited (HSL). As it can be en in the satellite picture, the aft-deck legacy surface to air missile system was removed and a pair of vertical launch systems blocks are installed. These VLS blocks most likely carry 16 surface to air missile each making Rajput class capable of firing 64 VL-SRSAM. However, Rajput class guided missile destroyers are set to get decommissioned by 2025 and these modifications are done to test and prove VL-SRSAM.
Consolidation of Short Range Air Defence Systems
Currently Indian Navy operates a wide verity of surface to air missile systems like Barak 1, Shtil-1, and V601. Logistically this is not a best situation to be in. However, VL-SRSAM can replace all of these short and medium category surface to air missile systems. This will consolidate the numbers making it logistically much lighter and with respect to training things will become much more simpler.
Initially “Maitri” missile was intended to replace all these missile systems but project never materialised. However, VL-SRSAM is completely indigenously designed and developed missile system, thus manufacturing ecosystem in India will get a much needed boost.
Next Generation Technology
The BVR missile Astra is baseline for VL-SRSAM. It incorporates numerous next generation technologies but three of these stand out.
AESA Seeker – The Baseline Astra features Indigenously designed and developed Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar (AESA) seeker in later variants (No clarity on production status). The VL-SRSAM inherits this seeker from Astra which makes it more resistant in heavy Electronic Warfare environment.
Smokeless Propellant – The missile uses a smokeless solid fuelled motor that can propel it to a speed of Mach 4.5. This technology makes the fired missile near untraceable, I.e. As the exhaust flame do not leave a trail of smoke behind it, it becomes near impossible to locate from where that missile has come from.
Network-centric operation – The secure two way data link allows this missile to hunt its target in packs. It can be launched in both autonomous and buddy mode operation and can lock on to its target before or after it is launched.
Air Defence with Two Layers
This new missile system will for sure replace the old and ageing short ranged missile systems like Barak 1 and V601 but it will compliment the state of the art Barak 8 long range surface to air missile systems on Indian Navy’s ship. Barak 8 and VL-SRSAM together will form two layers of air defence systems.
There are multiple advantage of two layered system including additional redundancy. This makes the fleet more secure from ever evolving aerial threats.
Advantage of existing manufacturing base
The BVR missile “Astra”, which is the baseline for the development of VL-SRSAM has already entered into production. This will make production of VL-SRSAM much easier and faster. The exiting supplier base and ecosystem that was created during serial production of Astra will benefit VL-SRSAM. This will additionally drive the cost down and this is why it has a great export potential.
Upgradability on cards ?
The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has already started working on next variant of BVR Missile Astra called as Astra Mk2. Certainly this new system can also be adapted as surface to air missile system. Since, the dimensions of both the missile systems (Astra Mk1 and Astra Mk2) will be more of less same. Thus it is safe to say, the same VLS can be tweaked to launch longer range vertical launched version of Astra Mk2.
Astra Mk2 being a dual pulse missile, will not only offer longer range but increased no escape zone. This will make the next generation variant even more capable.
Way forward ?
Many Analysts often say “Ships of Indian Navy” carry lesser missiles when compared with Chinese or Russian counter parts. However, the primer reason for this is “projects under development”. The missiles like Nirbhay and VL-SRSAM are under development and in future they will compliment the Brahmos and Barak 8 onboard Indian navy ship.
Deployment of these “Projects under Development” will not only increase the number of missile on board significantly but make Indian Navy’s ship much more lethal.
In short VLSRSAM is a potent system and Integration of such a system with the ships of Indian navy will change the equation forever.