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By Bulbul Singh

01 Aug 13. The $6 billion Indo-French joint development to produce a surface-to-air missile system, Maitri, has been put on hold by the Indian defence ministry because the system has grown in cost due to the depreciating Indian Rupee against the U.S. dollar. The project which was initially conceived to be worth around $3 billion has nearly doubled in cost due to inflation, the falling Indian Rupee and the project today is worth over $6 billion.

The Finance Minister has asked the Ministry of Defense to put the big ticket project on hold as the country is going through a depressed phase of economy.

“India’s air defence systems with the Indian Air Force (IAF), Navy and the Indian Army are already aging and there is a gaping hole in India’s air defense system,” said one Indian IAF official, adding that the force was having a fifty per cent obsolescence level of its air defence equipment.

The work agreement between the Indian Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and European defence major MBDA, which are to develop and produce the Maitri system, was concluded in early 2011. The short range missile with a range of 15 kilometres was to be developed in three years in the first phase of testing and thereafter production would have started at the state owned Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL).

The French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian, during his talks with his Indian counterpart A K Antony in New Delhi July 26, had pressed the Indian side to clear the Maitri project as the beginning of a long chain of other co-development projects between India and France.

The putting on hold of the Maitri project is likely to put a cap on further Indo-French joint development projects as well commented a diplomat of the French Embassy here. The Maitri took birth after the Indian government decided to wind up the homemade Trishul air defence system in 2006 and decided to go ahead with purchase of air defense systems from the market. Thereafter the Indian Air Force went ahead and procured the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)-Rafael Spyder quick-reaction medium-range missile system delivery of which is now underway.

The joint development and production was initially planned to produce 5 regiments for Maitri (3 regiments for the navy and 2 for the Air Force). The SRSAM would be a low and medium level, quick reaction ground based surface to air missile system capable of moving with mechanized forces and providing intrinsic mobile air defence protection. The system would be able to engage aircrafts, helicopters, missiles, UAVs and all types of airborne targets at maximum effective range of the missile. The proposed Maitri project is modelled on government-to-government R&D partnership as is in the case of the Russian BrahMos project to enable the two governments guarantee the flow of funds and technology. The plan calls for MBDA to develop the active homing-head system, thrust vector control systems and missiles, while the software, command-and-control system and system integration will be carried out by the DRDO.

The fate of the Maitri project could be plugged for ever as DRDO is also planning to approach the MOD to allow it produce a SRSAM project on its own. DRDO has taken the view point that it is in a position to develop its own SRSAM project after developing the Akash system.

Sources in DRDO said help has been assured by the Israelis for building the SRSAM.

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