A maiden flight test of the new version of Akash Missile, ‘Akash Prime’, was conducted by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on Monday, months after the maiden test of Akash-NG (New Generation), which was conducted in January.
Akash is primarily a Short Range Surface to Air Missile built for providing air defence cover to vulnerable areas. The Akash weapon system is capable of simultaneously engaging multiple targets in group or autonomous mode. It is equipped with a built-in Electronic Counter-Counter Measures (ECCM) feature enabling it to counter the electronic systems that deceive the detection systems.
Along with the supporting ground equipment, a radar named Rajendra, which accompanies each of the missile batteries, a complete Akash missile system comprises a launcher, a set of missiles, a control centre, a built-in mission guidance system and a C4I (command, control communication and intelligence) centres.
As a part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, DRDO had started developing the Akash Surface to Air Missile (SAM) in the late 1980s. In the late 1990s and 2000s, initial systems trials and field trials and target neutralisation trials were conducted, followed by extensive user trials conducted by the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army.
As per the Indian Ministry of Defence, the Akash Missile system is 96% indigenised, while multiple squadrons and groups of the missile are operated by the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army.
The earlier versions of the Akash, inducted in the 2010s, had an operational range of around 27-30 km with a flight altitude of 18 km. The new version of the missile ‘Akash Prime’ has the same range as that of the earlier version but is equipped with an indigenous active Radio Frequency (RF) seeker that provides improved accuracy to hit aerial targets. Reliable performance under low-temperature environments at higher altitudes is facilitated by other improvements made in the system.
On the other hand, Akash-NG (New Generation) Surface to Air Missile is primarily designed for the Indian Air Force to intercept high manoeuvring aerial threats with low Radar Cross Section (RCS). With a much smaller ground system footprint, The NG version has an enhanced range of up 70 km and is sleeker and lighter.
While the missile has a propulsion system of solid-fueled dual-pulse motor, the RF seeker of the NG version operates in the Microwave Ku-band. The Akash NG is stored and operated from specially designed compartments making it ‘canisterised’. The inside environment of the canister is controlled, thereby making its transport and storage easier and significantly improving the shelf life of weapons.
Before the induction into armed forces, both the new versions of Akash are slated to undergo extensive field and user trials.
The current inducted units of the Akash missile system provide a robust air defence cover to vital installations of the defence forces. Since, the threats keep evolving with time newer versions of the Akash weapon systems have to be developed.
As the targets are now more technologically complex as they are becoming less visible on the radar, newer versions of the RF seekers with more robust computing and networking systems and command-control mechanisms are incorporated in these newer versions.