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Missile muscle for air force

New Delhi, Nov. 4: Defence minister George Fernandes has approved a programme for missiles in the arsenal of the armed forces to be refurbished.

To begin with, the only missile-manufacturer in the country, the public sector Bharat Dynamics, has been asked to work on surface-to-air, air-to-air and anti-tank missiles with the air force.

The life span of surface-to-air and anti-tank missiles is usually stated to be 15 years and 10 years.

The size of the missile inventory with the armed forces is classified information. The short-range battlefield missiles are among the major frontline weapons systems for all three services and absolutely indispensable for the air force. Modern militaries replenish their inventories with fresh stocks after the shelf life of missiles expires. A battlefield missile that has expired is an unreliable weapon.

The order to upgrade the missiles is at once a cost-cutting exercise — to obviate the need to buy replacements — and a modernisation drive. The refurbishment will be done over several months for an undisclosed amount but Bharat Dynamics has projected a doubling of its turnover this year from Rs 300 crore to Rs 600 crore, part of which will be through the programme. The refurbishment is being done at a third of the original cost.

Bharat Dynamics’ chairman-cum-managing director Major General (retired) P. Mohandas said engineers in his establishment have “opened up” Pechora, Osaka and R-60 air-to-air missiles.

The upgradation is primarily designed to increase the shelf life of the missiles but Bharat Dynamics is also working with the air force to examine if lethality and range can be increased and if alternative warheads can be used.

Mohandas said Bharat Dynamics has also acquired technology from KBP Tula of Russia to produce the Konkors-M anti-tank missile. In India’s immediate context, the Konkors-M can be the weapon of choice against Pakistani tanks, like al-Khalids, with explosive reactive armour. The Konkors-M is fitted with a “tandem warhead” that is said to be capable of penetrating the armour and exploding inside a tank.

Bharat Dynamics will begin producing the Konkors-M shortly and, at the same time, upgrade the main anti-tank missile, the Milan, to the global Milan 2T standard. The Konkors-M and the Milan 2T are also on Bharat Dynamics’ wishlist of exports after having got permission this year to enter into international trade. The army’s infantry combat vehicles (BMPs) are to be equipped with the Konkors-M.

Bharat Dynamics is also engaged in concurrent engineering of missiles under the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. These include the Agni and Prithvi series.

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