The recent failure of the 290-km-range Brahmos missile to hit a pre-defined target and the high over-run in its production cost has put a question mark over fresh orders for 240 of these missiles from the Indian Army.
Though an RFP (Request For Proposal) for equipping two regiments with this missile was placed with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) mid-January,its learnt that Army chief General Deepak Kapoor has indicated he would not opt for its purchase unless the missile proved its capability and was available at a reasonable price.
We do not plan to move the proposal to the Cabinet Committee on Security. Let DRDO explain the shortcomings, Army officials told The Sunday Express,adding that both the Army and the Defence Ministry were opposed to the cost over-run and what DRDO claims to be an advanced seeker.
The Army,sources said,is bound by directions of the Defence Acquisition Council which,at the time of placing the first purchase order for 66 missiles in 2006,had said that subsequent regiments would have to be armed with SCAN or multi-spectral seeker a system that provides a video feed to the missile control centre to ensure precision in guidance.
This would help latch the missile on to a specific target hidden in clusters of buildings unlike the present radar technology where the target has to be in isolation or else the missile can deviate to an adjacent body that provides higher radar reflection.
That is why the present seeker has proved to be adequate for the Indian Navy as two objects are far removed from each other at sea, sources said. Brahmos is primarily an anti-ship missile that can be launched either in a vertical or inclined position with the capability of covering targets over a 360-degree horizon.
A demonstration to the Army of Brahmos hitting a specific target failed on January 20. The DRDO first claimed success but had to backtrack when General Kapoor insisted on visiting the target site and found that the missile had overshot by a kilometre.
The missile performance was absolutely normal till the last phase but the missile missed the target though it maintained direction, Brahmos Aerospace Corporation Director Sivathanu Pillai admitted later. The next test is scheduled for February 10.
Incidentally,a test fire using a vertical launch instead of the usual inclined position from battleship INS Ranvir on January 15 also missed its target,DRDO sources said.
Beyond the technology glitch,the DRDO would also have to explain the costs. The Indo-Russian joint venture is now quoting Rs 8,500 crore (October 2008 prices) for arming two regiments compared to Rs 3,000 crore in 2006.
The DRDO says that the cost escalation is due to the new price of Rs 27 crore being asked by the Russians for each missile compared to Rs 13 crore earlier.
The Indo-Russian joint venture was formed between DRDO and the Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia of Russia with the intent to indigenize here. But so far,80 percent mainly the liquid ramjet engine and the seeker are imported in knock-down condition to be reassembled by the Russians.