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By Bulbul Singh

06 Jan 14. The Indian Army wants a review of its available Multi-barrel Rocket Launcher Systems (MRLS) which could include the purchase of Russian-made Smerch MRLS and upgrade of the Russian-made Grad MRLS. The indigenous Pinaka MRLS inducted in 1995 is having technical problems while the upgraded version of Pinaka-II is still undergoing trials.

The Smerch, bought in 2006, has problems relating to the availability of spares and maintenance of the systems. There is an additional requirement for advanced MRLS but there is a division of opinion amongst defence planners whether to give an additional order to Russia, by exercising the optional clause available in the 2006 contract or to renegotiate fresh the terms of the agreement for purchase of Smerch or even to explore the idea of buying the systems from overseas.

India’s state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) which administers the 40 weapons factories signed a joint venture with M/s Rosoboronexport, Russia and M/s Splav SPA in 2012 to manufacture five types of Smerch munitions but the factory has yet to start production. When the new factory begins production of the Smerch ammunition there will be an additional requirement for Smerch rockets and ammunition.

However, the Russians are waiting for additional orders for the Smerch to get the ammunition factory. The Indian Army would welcome additional Smerch systems as it has an effective long range interdiction rocket system which meets the range and multiple firing capability of the Indian Army.

The Indian Army has asked the Ministry of Defence to negotiate purchase of the latest long-range MLRS developed by Russia which has an improved guidance that could allow them to strike targets up to 120 miles.

The Indian Army, meanwhile, is awaiting a new indigenous missile system called Prahar which could be a possible replacement for the MRLSs. In fact the Indian Artillery has decided to replace Prithvi-1 with Prahar. Prahar is a surface-to-surface solid fuel missile with a shorter range of between 70 to 140kms. The vehicle-mounted Prahar, can effectively fill the firing gap between the indigenous Pinaka MLRS with a range of 40kms and the Prithvi-I missile with a range of 150kms. The Prahar is 7.3 meters long, 420mm in diameter and weighs 1,280kgs and has advanced software systems for guidance of the missile against targets. The missile which can be stored in a canister can fire all its missiles in a 3-5 second salvo. The Indian Army also requires to increase the hit range of the Russian Grad MLRS from the current level of 20 to 40kms.

Prahar will be the third layer to cover up to 140kms and the range of the Pinaka is also being increased from 40 to 60kms. However, the system is still in trials and a test in September failed. The Indian Army would prefer the Pinaka-2 system as there would be no problems of availability of spares or maintenance as has happened in the case of the Smerch or Grad systems.

The domestic private sector is involved in supplying sub systems and auxiliaries for the Pinaka MRLS and as such, the Indian government and the Army place greater faith in indigenous manufacturing opting for spiral development process rather than continuing to back foreign suppliers.

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