Indo-French ‘Maitri’ mis­sile pro­gramme to take off

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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