Military & Aerospace

Indian Navy: Anti Missile Defence Systems
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In the 1971 Indo–Pakistan War, small 200 ton missile boats acquired from Russia attacked ships patrolling outside Karachi harbour. The radar homing heads of these liquid fuelled missiles successfully homed on, and, with two missiles, in two minutes devastated and sank a much larger and powerful 3000-ton Pakistan Navy destroyer from a range well outside the range of the destroyer’s guns. From the point of view of naval tactics, the advent of such missiles heralded a revolution in the centuries-old-tactics of battle between naval ships by transforming gun battles within visual range to missile encounters much beyond visual range. This development also transformed the nature of the threat because, without any warning, missiles could, by day or by night, regardless of weather, approach their targets at near sonic speed and inflict fatal damage.

Between the 1970s and 1980s, the Pakistan Navy acquired Harpoon missiles from America and Exocet sea skimming missiles from France. Both missiles were technologically better than those used in the 1971 war because:-

  • They could skim the sea flying just a few metres above the sea, which made their approach very difficult to detect and track.
  • Being solid fuelled they could be fired from ships, submarines and aircraft.

During the 1982 war between Britain and Argentina in the Falkland Islands, the sinking of several British warships by French Exocet sea skimming missiles fired by Argentine aircraft reiterated the urgent need for Anti Missile Defence (AMD).

Need for AMD

In all navies, research intensified to cope with the threat posed by sea-skimming missiles. Gradually, concepts of anti missile defence began to crystallise as tiered options. These were:-

  • To detect and destroy a ship, aircraft or submarine before it could fire its missiles.
  • If not successful, then to detect the incoming missile and the radar transmission of its homing head and prevent a missile that had already been fired from hitting by electronically seducing its radar homing.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a spiralling contest took place between new technologies of the homing heads of anti-ship missiles and the countermeasures to cope with every new advance in homing head technology while homing heads showed ever improving circuitry that would overwhelm/defeat the latest countermeasures.

Gradually, homing heads started combining multiple technologies from radar homing onto the largest echo with infra red homing, along with homing onto the target’s radar/jammer transmissions. The desirability of denying a radar homing missile of a large radar echo led to the incorporation of “Stealth” technology1 in the design of all future warships. The technological challenges were enormous.

Technological Challenges

To start with, it was essential to detect, at as long a range as possible, a slim missile approaching at the speed of sound just a few meters above the sea. Then, it was necessary to have a track and guidance system that could accurately guide the anti-missile missile also flying at least at the speed of sound to hit or arrive within proximity fuze exploding distance of the incoming missile. The combined crossing rate was twice the speed of sound. The slightest error or delay in computation meant that the incoming missile would escape interception and fatally damage its target ship.

To cater for this contingency, ships were fitted with small calibre ( 30 mm) guns having very high rate of fire (thousands of rounds per minute).

Initially, ships acquired from the Soviet Union were fitted with AK 230 double barrelled 30mm mountings having autonomous detection and fire control systems.

In due course, the double barrelled gun mountings were superseded by AK 630 six-barrelled 30mm mountings to ensure that every ship had this type of terminal point defence. Agreements were negotiated with the Soviet Union for transfer of technology to indigenously produce these mountings under licence.

To increase kill probability against incoming missiles by gunfire, it was decided to use 76mm calibre proximity fuzed shells, fired from high rate of fire 76mm guns. Agreements were negotiated with the Italian firm Oto Melara for transfer of technology and indigenous production of these mountings under licence.

The Trishul Project

The Navy projected its critical requirement of an anti sea-skimmer missile to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The requirement for an anti-missile missile was included in the Integrated Guided Missile Development Plan (IGMDP) as Project Trishul, whose objective was the development of an inter-service, short range (9 km), quick reaction (6 sec) Tactical Surface to Air Missile (SAM). The Naval version was required to have anti-skimmer missile capability. The Army version was to be on tracked vehicles and the Air Force version was to be on wheeled vehicles.

The DRDO assured that Trishul was envisaged for fitment in the latest ships, i.e Project 16A Brahmaputra class frigates, then under indigenous construction.

Sequence of Events

As part of the IGMDP, the Trishul Project was accorded sanction in 1983, scheduled for completion in 1992 to dovetail with the completion of the Brahmaputra, the first ship of Project 16A. After a timely start, progress became sporadic for a variety of reasons. The sequence of events was:

1983: The Government approved the development of these missiles and the structure of the IGMDP.

1985: First flight of unguided Trishul from Sriharikota Range (SHAR).

1989: Full 9 km guided flight of Trishul. The original concept of gathering the missile into the field of view using TV proved unsuitable for injecting it into the initial narrow 0.6 degree wide gathering beam and later injection into an even sharper 0.43 degree guidance beam.

1992: The altimeter-controlled Mach 2 flight of a Trishul missile was successful against a pre-determined trajectory (programmed and stored in the missile) fired at a simulated sea-skimming target mounted
7 meters above the sea. However variation in altimeter control was found to be unacceptable.

1997: RAWS 03 (the search radar for detecting the incoming sea-skimmer) systems was installed in Dronacharya and became fully operational.

May 98: The missile tracking/guidance system was installed at Dronacharya, set to work, tested and tuned, integrated with the launcher and rendered ready for firing the first missile, which was also by then completed by BDL, Hyderabad.

Jun 98: The first missile was fired from Dronacharya against a simulated target. Thereafter, 14 telemetry version naval missiles were fired on a variety of simulated targets, Chukar Pilotless Target Aircraft (PTAs) for a higher flying missile and a static model on a pontoon for the sea skimmer version.

By end 1998, crucial sub-systems of the overall project completed development and became available from different locations for integration as a total system at the proving range in Cochin. These were the search radar for initially detecting the incoming missile, the guidance system for the outgoing missile, the missile launcher, and its barbette for reloading the launcher.

By the early 1990s, NHQ concluded that the Trishul project was not likely to be completed by the time that
INS Brahmaputra would become ready for delivery. In view of the vital requirement of anti-missile defence, NHQ started looking for an alternative.

The Barak System

As the Navy scouted for options, it quickly became clear that only two effective options were available. One was the Russian Kashtan system that would be fitted in the three new Project 1135.6 frigates (later designated as the Talwar class frigates), the contract for which had been signed in 1997.

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The other was the Israeli Barak system. In view of the operational urgency for installing an anti-missile missile system in INS Brahmaputra, both options were rigorously evaluated. The Barak emerged as the better system. The details of the Barak SAM that were published in the national media are:

“The Israeli Barak SAM is an integrated system intended to destroy incoming anti-ship missiles. The system comprises of the 10 km-range interceptor missile, an eight-tube Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI)/Rafael-developed vertical-launch system, an EL/M-2221 STGR [Search, Track & Guidance Radar] and an Elbit fire-control system capable of automatic operation, with the ability to engage two targets simultaneously.”

This missile system was short listed by the Indian Navy in 1994 and the first batch of seven systems, approved by the CCS in 1996, was followed by another approval in 2000 to install all seven systems onboard their respective platforms, initially announced as frigates of the Project 16 Godavari class/Project 16A Brahmaputra class and the aircraft carrier, INS Viraat. INS Brahmaputra was being built to accommodate the Trishul system, but even as the ship was being readied for launch, the latter had still not completed development. The ship was eventually commissioned without a SAM system, until finally equipped with the Barak system a while later. At least 10 new Barak systems were to be purchased in follow-on batches.2

The Government’s approval to import Barak virtually endorsed the Navy’s assessment that Trishul would not be able to meet the Navy’s timeline for installation in the frigates despite years of challenging R&D effort.3

When the Kargil War erupted in 1999, the lack of Barak Systems for installing in all the ships likely to be deployed in harms way became a cause for serious concern. Breaking his silence on the Barak controversy, former Navy Chief Admiral Sushil Kumar spoke to Force about the need for anti-missile systems.4

Navy’s Requirement of Anti-Missile Defence. Way back in the early 1980s, the Pakistan Navy secretly acquired a new generation anti-ship missile from the US and France. Against these lethal Harpoon-Exocet sea skimming missiles, our warships were absolutely defenceless. The requirement for a suitable Anti-Missile Defence (AMD) system for the Indian Navy thus became the most critical operational imperative. To fill this operational void, the DRDO commenced project.

Israeli Barak as an Option. By 1994, it became clear that DRDO’s Trishul project had failed and the Navy had been left stranded after waiting for 12 years for an indigenous AMD system. Placed in a serious operational dilemma, the then Navy Chief Admiral Shekhawat urged the Government to provide an alternative AMD system. The hunt for a suitable import option took two years of extensive evaluation, analyses and field trials and involved the participation of the DRDO. The Government finally approved the induction of the Israeli Barak AMD system and formalised this policy through an MoU signed in early 1997 with the Israeli Government.

Role of Kargil Conflict in the Induction of Barak. In 1999, I had just taken over as the Navy Chief. By end June, the situation we faced was brutally stark. War with Pakistan had become imminent and we found ourselves in a serious operational dilemma: our warships were without AMD of any sort to counter the dangerous Pakistan Navy’s Harpoon-Exocet threat. At a crucial meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the three Service Chiefs had briefed the Prime Minister of the critical war-fighting deficiencies of the armed forces. Anti Missile Defence being the Navy’s most critical need, the advice from the Naval Headquarters to the Ministry of Defence was specific: While we continue to await DRDO’s Trishul project to shape up, the Navy urgently requires six Barak AMD systems as a war-fighting necessity…. The Navy strongly supports research and development and self reliance, but it cannot be at the cost of the nation’s security.

DRDO’s Trishul. For all practical purposes, Trishul did not exist. And for this very reason, the Government took a policy decision in the nineties for Barak to replace Trishul. Even today Barak-II remains the Government’s policy option for the Navy’s AMD requirement for the future. To me, it seems that the DRDO was being optimistic. …

Reaction to the CBI’s Statement that the DRDO’s ‘Learned Advice’ About Trishul had been Ignored. It only shows that the charade played out for 25 years has fooled a lot of people, though mercifully not the Navy… Many things have remained unsaid, including the fact that Barak was approved by the Government for the Navy’s AMD requirements. Firstly, Navy’s recommendation was the sum total of the collective wisdom and professional experience of our operational commanders and based on the strategic requirement of the service that had been projected for several years by successive Navy chiefs, long before I came on the scene. In short, it was no off-the-cuff recommendation. Secondly, this recommendation was elaborately processed and scrutinised for several months by the highly structured hierarchy of all the key ministries of the Government of India including the Defence and Finance before it received the final seal of approval at the highest government level by the CCS chaired by the Prime Minister. There was nothing adhoc about it.

Is There a Mismatch Between the Armed Forces and the DRDO in terms of Expectations and Deliveries? I would call it a mixed experience of highs and lows. DRDO’s Sonar project was a stunning success in the 1980’s that gave the Indian Navy a world class submarine detection capability. Trishul, on the other hand, was a disaster that left the Navy stranded without its most vital armament for almost 20 years. It took a man of Dr. Aatre’s courage and conviction, as DRDO’s chief, to roll back this project and reconfigure it as a joint venture with Israel to develop Barak II for future Indian Naval ships. All this hue and cry seems senseless, especially when Trishul was a self-accepted failure of the DRDO and the Government has now approved a DRDO partnership with the very same Israeli firm for Barak II.

What Message Do Such Controversies Send to the Armed Forces? To point a finger at the Navy for someone else’s folly is inexcusable. Sure, this sort of a thing could demoralise the armed forces. All said and done, the first duty of any service chief is to ensure that his force remains combat-worthy. It is a duty performed through faith and trust. That indeed, is the bottom line.”

However, in March 2003, the Defence Minister stated in Parliament that “Trishul was being progressed by DRDO as a technology demonstrator, de-linking it from the user services.”

  1. Refer to chapter titled “Project 17 Stealth Frigates”.
  2. As of July 2005, confirmed recipients of the Barak system include two Type 15 Delhi Class destroyers, one (probably more) Type 16 Godavari Class frigate, three Type 16A Brahmaputra Class frigates, at least one Rajput (Kashin II) Class destroyer and the solitary aircraft carrier, INS Viraat.
  3. There is a view that the approval to induct Barak was resented by some DRDO scientists to such an extent that led to allegations that the approval was accorded under pressure from the import lobby opposed to self-reliance. The allegations led to the institution of an Inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which is still in progress and therefore sub-judice.
  4. Extract of CNS Sushil Kumar’s 2006 Interview in Force magazine.
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One thought on “Indian Navy: Anti Missile Defence Systems

  1. The article exhibits the reality in the missile programme, however, it would be more good if the requirement specification given to DRDO could also be mentioned,

    I opine that the contribution to a non productive project out come is a combined responsibility of Services and DRDO only

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