Indo-French ‘Maitri’ missile programme to take off
Could there finally be some seriously good news for MBDA in the Indian market? It could go down as one of the longest, most protracted set of negotiations in the history of weapons partnerships, but after over five years in discussions and literally endless parleys over technology and workshare, missile friendship—Maitri— between India and France appears all set for launch. The Maitri shortrange surface-to-air missile (SR-SAM) is ready to be become a formal bilateral programme, with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as lead partner and MBDA as an equal partner and technology provider. Top DRDO sources indicate that the agreement will be signed this financial year, and has received all requisite approvals.
Top sources have told SP’s that the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has accorded final approval to the SR-SAM deal, which now awaits final clearance from the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Committee on Security. The workshare is roughly 60 per cent French and 40 per cent Indian, with an overall cost of about $6 billion. Earlier this year, there had been hiccups with questions raised over the high cost of the programme, though this was finally sorted out by the Defence Ministry’s intervention. Sources indicate that the former DRDO leadership had also prioritised the longer-range programmes like the MRSAM and LR-SAM with Israel, and therefore didn’t have resources to commit to the SR-SAM programme, though that has also been taken care of under the leadership of DRDO chief Dr Avinash Chander, who has decided to place all Twelfth Five Year Plan programmes on the fast track.
“The SR-SAM is a critical programme. It has taken longer than it should have to finalise the modalities of the cooperation partnership, but now that we have a draft agreement, it is important to sign it quickly and begin work in earnest. While development work has begun at MBDA as well as DRDO laboratories, it is only after formal government sanction that funds will flow and real work can begin, including crucial subsystem testing. It will be a complex partnership, and our first with the French for a weapon system. We have gained some experience in partnerships with the Russians and Israelis, but this will be a new paradigm which we are looking forward to,” a senior DRDO official told SP’s.
All three services are looking forward to the programme with great interest. With the collapse of the Trishul programme, and with the Barak-1 programme mired in controversy (though the Defence Ministry is likely to clear an order for over 200 more Barak-1 missiles shortly for frontline warships), there has been a marked dirth in short-range quick reaction missiles across the three services. In that sense, the Maitri will be the first ‘joint’ weapon system developed for the Indian services. From the drawing board, the system will be designed for dif- ferent deployment regimes, including land and sea.
As reported earlier by SP’s, during the visit of French President Francois Hollande earlier this year, it was revealed in a joint statement that negotiations on the $6-billion programme had been concluded and that an agreement was in the offing. Technical work has already begun on the weapon system, with MBDA already kick-starting development of the seeker, thrust-vectoring assemblies, endgame avionics, propulsion—all part of the draft workshare agreement that has now been made final.
The SR-SAM will be built for tri-service applications, including a naval version with a point defence capability, along with the Revathi radar. In 2011, MBDA revealed that the SR-SAM would be offered to the Indian Army for two prospective acquisitions for SR-SAMs and QRSAMs. The SR-SAM is being developed with a range of 15 km, a max altitude of 3 km with a sea-skimming mode, with a vertical launch multiple target capability. It will sport a smokeless solid rocket motor, low aspect ratio wings and jet vane control for thrust vector control.
The Indian Government in 2011 cleared the way for a massive $2.2-billion procurement effort for quick-reaction surface-to-air missiles (QR-SAMs) to arm eight air defence regiments of the Indian Army. The missiles are intended to replace obsolete Soviet air defence systems. MBDA had decided at the time to pitch the in-development Maitri for the competition, in the hope that “enhanced synergies” will see a concept weapon get its big break even before it’s fully operational. The Indian Army is also on the hunt for a QR-SAM system with a reaction time of six seconds or less, with an engagement range of 9-15 km at altitudes of not less than 6 km. It’s looking for a weapon that delivers a single shot kill probability (SSKP) of at least 70 per cent for a single missile fired, and 85 per cent for a salvo shot involving two missiles. The missile also needs to be able to threats moving at speeds ranging from 0 kmph (a hovering helicopter) to 500 m/s on fast jets. The Army is hoping for systems that deploy missiles which have ECCM capabilities and compatibility with vehicles currently in use.
The Maitri programme will join a host of other missile partnerships currently ongoing in the DRDO stable—the others include the hypersonic BrahMos-II, LR-SAM and MR-SAM, none of which are anywhere close to operational service.
The ownership of the Maitri programme is to be fully Indian. With baseline technologies from the Trishul SAM programme, the Maitri programme basically envisages the sale of certain key technologies by MBDA to DRDO (seeker, endgame avionics, thrust vector control, propulsion modifications), though production will not be under a corporate joint venture on the lines of BrahMos, but would rather be carried out entirely by the Bharat Dynamics Ltd in the country.