Indian Naval Air Defenses: Another Avoidable Crisis
New CCS approves Barak-1 missile deal.
January 9/19: New Airbase The Indian Navy establishes a new naval airbase on its Andaman and Nicobar Islands territory. Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba will commission the new Base christened as the INS Kohassa on January 24. The Indian Navy wants to extend the base into a bigger air base in future. The airbase will be able to handle Helicopter and Dornier Aircraft and will initially feature a 1,000 meter long runway, which will later be extended to 3,000 meters to enable operations to be carried out by fighters and other aircraft.
India’s dysfunctional political and procurement systems have created another security crisis for its military, by creating a growing risk that a number of its ships will have weakened defenses against aerial attack.
The problem stems from the government’s inability to issue a follow-on contract for Barak-1 missiles, last ordered in October 2000 when India bought 9 systems and 200 missiles in a pair of deals with IAI and RAFAEL worth INR 15.1 billion (then around $326 million). The blockage is delaying key upgrades, and missile stocks for existing ships are critically low and shrinking. As usual, the culprit is a combination of a bureaucratic culture divorced from operational needs, inability to make decisions, and overly rigid rules.
Avoidable Crises, and Invidious Comparisons
The Indian Navy has repeatedly asked to buy about 262 more Barak-1 missiles, at a reported cost of about $150 million.
They need them because radar-guided Barak-1 missiles now equip India’s lone aircraft carrier INS Viraat, all 6 Project 16/16A Godavari/ Brahmaputra Class 3,850t frigates, 2 of 6 Rajput Class 4,974t destroyers, and the 3 new 6,200t Shivalik Class frigates. Current missile stocks aren’t adequate to cover that, and readiness requires regular training launches against live targets.
Barak-1 missiles are also supposed to be part of upgrades to India’s 3 Delhi Class 6,200t destroyers, in order to remove the hole created by the Russian SA-N-7C ‘Gollum’ air defense missile system’s limited firing arc.
The Barak deal had its Indian critics, most especially in the state’s DRDO defense R&D bureau. They wanted to Navy to keep waiting for their Trishul missile, but it was such a failure that it was eventually discontinued in December 2008, about 25 years after development began.
The Barak’s real problems in India reach back to a 2001 Tehelka magazine investigation, which alleged that 15 defense deals were compromised by kickbacks to public officials, including defense minister Geroge Fernandes. The Barak missile deal was included. An Indian CBI report was submitted in October 2006, and some charges were laid against alleged middlemen in the case, but CBI isn’t getting the responses it wants from Israel and Britain, and hasn’t made much legal headway in 7 years.
The Barak-1’s small space footprint, and dedicated vertical launch system, makes its replacement by other options much more difficult.
A new local missile might offer India a way out for some ships, but it won’t come in time. A joint LR-SAM project with Israel is producing the longer-range Barak-8 for Naval use, but it has fallen behind schedule. Israel will refit its 3 Eilat Class corvettes by the end of 2013, switching from Barak-1 to Barak-8 missiles in response to recent Syrian moves, but India doesn’t expect to even make a decision before 2015. Fielding LR-SAM before 2020 would constitute an achievement by Indian standards, and its ships need to defend themselves in the interim.
While India neglects its Navy’s basic defenses, Pakistan has fielded 3 new Agosta 90B AIP submarines armed with Exocet anti-ship missiles, is equipping its P-3 aircraft fleet with Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles, and bought and fielded 4 F-22P Zulfiquar Class frigates from China that carry C-802 anti-ship missiles.
Aug 14/14: INS Kolkata. Media reports indicate that India’s new 7,500t air defense destroyer INS Kolkata, which is set to be commissioned on Aug 16/14, will be armed with Barak-1 missiles until the Barak-8s arrive. The article doesn’t explain whether the vertical launchers are compatible, or whether the Barak-1 has been integrated yet with the IAI Elta MF-STAR active array radar that equips the new destroyer class. On the other hand, India is likely to have 3 Kolkata Class destroyers ready to go by the time they’re done testing the Indian LR-SAM, so they’ll need to do something. Needless to say, ordering more Barak-1s becomes even more urgent under this scenario. With respect to the Barak-8s:
“The missile is ready, but [DRDO’s] boosters to propel the missile [upon launch]… have failed.”
The destroyer will also need a towed array sonar to give it proper anti-submarine capability, another issue that India has been struggling with throughout the fleet. The final concern involves the ship’s Ukrainian-built engines, which could create spare parts issues if Ukraine’s war with Russia in its Eastern Provinces deteriorates. On the other hand, India also has excellent relations with Russia, so as long as someone is in control, they should be OK. Sources: oneindia News, “INS Kolkata, the Biggest Naval Destroyer, is the weakest link in Defence”.
Aug 7/14: CCS OK. After an electoral landslide buries the previous Congress Party government, the new Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) directs the Ministry to buy 262 Barak-I air defense missiles and spares from Israel. Early estimates say the contract will cost around INR 10 billion ($167 million). Indian sources also seem to be indicating that INS Vikramaditya may get Barak-1 missiles as an interim step:
“India needs Barak missiles to arm its aircraft carriers and front-line warships against strike aircraft and anti-ship missiles. The Barak will be fitted on at least 14 Indian warships and the newly acquired Vikramaditya,” said a South Block official.”
Then again, this could just be an official in the Prime Minister’s office who doesn’t understand the difference between these Barak-1 short range air defense missiles, and the future Barak-8 LR-SAM. Or between the Barak-1 equipped INS Viraat, and the currently defenseless INS Vikramaditya. Sources: Hindustan Times, “Weeks after UN vote, India seeks Israel missile deal”.
Dec 23/13: DAC OK. AK Antony and the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) clear the Indian Navy’s intent to buy 262 more Barak-1 missiles, in order to replenish their fast-dwindling stocks. So, how are the replacements coming?:
“The naval LR-SAM, approved in December 2005, is now slated for completion by December 2015. The MR-SAM project, sanctioned in February 2009, in turn, has a “probable date of completion” by August 2016.”
Sources: Times of India, “Antony finally clears long-pending controversial deal for Israeli Barak missiles.”
Nov 12/13: Probe closing? The Indian Express reports that the Central Bureau of Investigation is also set to close its Barak missile probe:
“Officials said the paucity of evidence in bribery scandals had been discussed more than once when MoD officials and top CBI officers reviewed defence investigations and that the Barak case figured prominently in the discussions. Sources said a formal closure report in the October 2006 case could be filed as early as the end of this month.”
Sources: The Indian Express, “CBI set to close Barak probe, MoD readies to buy missiles”.
Nov 11/13: Indian defence minister AK Antony and the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) duck the Barak issue. They bypass the Navy, and require an affirmation of the Barak missile buy’s military urgency from “an independent group” within the Ministry of Defence.
The move could be viewed two ways. One is that it allows the DAC to duck responsibility for a straightforward call on the issue, shortly before elections where widespread ministerial corruption is expected to be an issue. Under this scenario, if the panel’s composition affirms the buy’s military necessity, the DAC is expected to make its decision within a month or so, citing those circumstances. If the review panel reject’s the Navy’s case that shaky air defense capabilities for around 14 ships is a problem, the DAC can defer any decision. Subsequent reports that the CBI may be about to drop the case in a month or so would make for convenient timing either way.
Note… The Times of India refers to 14 Indian ships equipped with the missiles, whereas DID’s count above is just 12, and other media sources report 10. DID is checking further, but the discrepancy could be explained by the progress of the Rajput Class destroyers’ refits. Sources: Times of India, “Antony defers decision on critical but controversial missile deals with Israel” | Defense-Aerospace, “Op-Ed: Corruption Fears Freeze India Acquisitions”.
Sept 9/13: With a pending CBI case, even one that showed no signs of legal movement, the Ministry of Law and Justice had blocked referral of the Navy’s Barak-1 requests to the political Cabinet Committee on Security for approval. To the Navy’s credit, it has continued to push for revised legal opinions, and the Economic Times reports that all legal barriers have now been removed.
The Ministry of Defence can now make a decision on the Navy’s request – but won’t. Sources: Economic Times, “Anti-missile shield for frontline Navy warships fast eroding”
Note that dollar conversion of the original sale is based on the exchange rate of Oct 23/00 for Rs 1,510 crore: Rs 1,160 crore for the 9 systems, and Rs 350 crore for the 200 missiles. India’s currency has been sliding lately, and as of Sept 15/13, $150 million for the 262 follow-on missiles equals about Rs 947 crore.
- IAI – Barak-1 Ship Point Defense System
- DID – India & Israel’s Barak SAM Development Project(s). MR-SAM for the IAF, and LR-SAM for the Navy, both related to the Barak-8.
Some Other Examples
- DID – India Needs New Maritime/ASW Helicopters. Poor underwater defenses against submarines, and poor aerial defenses against missiles, is not conducive to keeping your navy afloat.
- DID – India’s Project 75 SSKs: Too Late to Save the Submarine Force? Speaking of avoidable crises…
- DID – India’s Light Helicopter Contract Hits Turbulence, Stalls. Yet another example, whose reporting links to further examples.
- DID – Procurement Nadir: India’s Murky, Messed-Up Howitzer Competitions. This one takes the cake for avoidable crises. India has a serious, systemic problem.