Armed forces get new anti-airfield weapon, counter-drone systems

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In a needed push to self-reliance in India’s defence manufacturing sector, defence minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday handed over to the armed forces locally developed military hardware including a smart air-launched weapon, anti-drone systems and an advanced radar countermeasure system, officials familiar with the development said.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had developed the weapons and systems.

Singh also handed over transfer of technology (ToT) agreements covering six systems, including the coastal surveillance radar, to seven public and private sector companies to bolster their defence manufacturing capabilities at an event organised in New Delhi as part of the ongoing country-wide celebrations to mark the 75th year of India’s celebration.

This comes at a time when the government is encouraging self-reliance in the defence sector through a slew of policy decisions.

The notable systems handed over to the armed forces include the smart anti-airfield weapon (SAAW) that can target enemy airfield assets such as radars, bunkers, taxiways and runways; and counter-drone systems to swiftly detect, intercept and destroy small drones that pose a security threat. SAAW has a range of 100 km.

The anti-drone system would give the military both “soft kill” and “hard kill” options to tackle the new and fast-emerging aerial threats, the officials said. The first refers to jamming the hostile drone, while the second involves a laser-based kill system. The drone threat was highlighted by the June 27 attack targeting the Jammu air force station, the first-ever offensive use of drones to hit an Indian military facility.

The steps taken by the government to boost indigenisation include increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) from 49% to 74%, notifying two lists of 209 weapons and systems that cannot be imported and creating a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware.

Singh identified the development of a hypersonic cruise missile as a key focus area.

Last year, India took the first steps towards developing a new class of ultra-modern weapons that can travel six times faster than the speed of sound (Mach 6) and penetrate any missile defence, with DRDO carrying out a successful flight test of the hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HSTDV) for the first time.

Only the United States, Russia and China have developed technologies to field fast-manoeuvring hypersonic missiles that fly at lower altitudes and are extremely hard to track and intercept. Mach 6 translates into a speed of 7,408kmph.

India could develop hypersonic cruise missiles powered by air-breathing scramjet engines in about four years, the officials said. Such engines operate efficiently at hypersonic speeds and allow supersonic combustion.

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