India will finally be able to strengthen the eroding defensive shield around its 14 frontline warships, with the Modi government clearing the long-delayed "critical" acquisition of 262 missiles to arm the Israeli Barak-I anti-missile defence (AMD) systems fitted on board them.
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chaired by PM Narendra Modi on Wednesday evening gave the final nod to the Rs 880 crore acquisition of Barak-I missiles, which has been hanging fire for the last six years despite successive Navy chiefs sounding the red alert over this "critical operational deficiency", said sources.
The Barak AMD systems, installed on aircraft carrier INS Viraat, guided-missile destroyers like INS Mysore and Shivalik-class stealth frigates, are designed to intercept and destroy incoming enemy missiles at a range of 9-km. India had ordered the first Barak-I system for INS Viraat in the late 1990s to counter Pakistan's acquisition of sea-skimming Exocet and Harpoon missiles.
DRDO's failure to develop the indigenous Trishul AMD system paved the way for further orders after the 1999 Kargil conflict, with a Rs 1,160 crore Barak contract being inked in October 2000 by the then Vajpayee-led NDA-1 government to arm the 14 warships.
But after the UPA regime came to power, the CBI in 2006 named former defence minister George Fernandes, his party associates Jaya Jaitly and R K Jain, alleged arms dealer Suresh Nanda and former Navy chief Admiral Sushil Kumar, apart from armament firms Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael, in the infamous Barak kickbacks case.
This effectively derailed the Navy's case for fresh procurement of missiles to replenish its depleting stocks, even though the UPA regime did not blacklist IAI and Rafael on the ground that it would prove "counter-productive".
Though the CBI late last year closed its case due to lack of evidence, the UPA-2 regime had refrained from taking the fresh procurement case to the CCS for the final nod. The Navy, in fact, had even curtailed its practice firings of the Barak missiles due to their paucity in recent years.Incidentally, the next-generation AMD systems with 70-km interception range are being built in a joint DRDO-IAI project, though the name 'Barak' has been dropped due to the stigma attached with it. The long-range surface-to-air missile (LR-SAM) system to arm warships is worth Rs 2,606 crore, while a medium-range SAM system for IAF is pegged at Rs 10,076 crore.
Hit by huge delays, both the systems will be ready only by December 2015 now. Consequently, India's new aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and latest indigenous destroyer INS Kolkata are currently operating without these missile defence systems.- timesofindia