As many as a third of the indigenous Akash surface-to-air missiles have failed basic tests, making them unreliable and unusable, says the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, adding that the deficiencies in the missiles "posed an operational risk during hostilities".
The CAG report, tabled in Parliament on Friday, is a big setback for the Make in India initiative which seeks to reduce India's dependence on imported arms. The report says "the missiles fell short of the target, had lower than the required velocity, and there was malfunctioning of critical units".
Akash was to be positioned in the vulnerable Siliguri corridor (also referred to as Chicken's Neck), as a counter to any strike by Chinese air force fighters. But the CAG report puts a big question mark on its utility.
The Indian Air Force has refused to comment on the report.
The Akash was produced by the state-run Bharat Electronics. The auditor says that though Rs3,600 crore has been paid to the manufacturer, none of the missile systems are installed at the six designated sites even though it has been seven years since the contract was signed.
The Akash and its newer variant, the Akash Mk-2, are medium-range surface-to-air missile systems designed to intercept enemy aircraft and missiles at a distance of 18-30 km. Tested extensively by the Indian Air Force, the Akash, which was first handed over in December 2008, was seen as a breakthrough indigenous system and in 2010, an additional six squadrons were ordered.
These additional squadrons, composed of missile launchers, radars, associated vehicles and hundreds of Akash missiles, were meant to be deployed at six air force bases in the East for which the government approved related infrastructure including storage facilities, workshops and ramp structures. These were supposed to be constructed by Bharat Electronics on a turnkey basis at a cost of approximately Rs100 crore.
However, this infrastructure "could not be completed till October 2016 at any of the sites". The auditor also says though work was nearly complete at two bases, the "IAF had not taken over these buildings because of defects in the construction, which rendered them unsuitable for strategic missile system storage. In other stations, the progress was below 45 per cent as of October 2016".
While the missiles were indeed delivered to air forces bases between April 2014 and June 2016 after a delay of between 6 and 18 months, they were found to be deficient in quality. According to the auditor, "Out of 80 missiles received up to November 2014, 20 missiles were test fired during April-November 2014. Six of these missiles, ie, 30 per cent, failed the test."
The CAG also said the missiles, bought at a high cost, would stay usable for a less period than their stipulated life. The life of some of them had expired by March this year.
According to a Times of India report, defence ministry sources said the Army has made it clear that it does not want any more Akash regiments after it gets the first two ordered earlier for Rs14,180 crore, with six firing batteries and several hundred missiles each.
The Army holds that Akash area defence missile systems do not meet its operational requirements for defending its strike corps against enemy air attacks in forward areas.