The development comes amid the ongoing military standoff with China at the LAC in eastern Ladakh and reports of air violations by China along the LAC last year.
India has been in talks with Russia since 2018 to procure the Igla-S air defence missiles at a cost of $1.5 billion under the VSHORAD programme in a bid to replace the Russian Igla-M systems which have been in use with the Army.
However, defence officials indicated that there has been little progress on that front and it has been put on hold for now with the strong government pitch for atmanirbharta (self -dependence) in defence. The latest AoN granted to the procurement of the DRDO-developed VSHORAD testifies that.
What is the missile system?
Meant to kill low altitude aerial threats at short ranges, VSHORADS is a man portable Air Defence System (MANPAD) designed and developed indigenously by DRDO’s Research Centre Imarat (RCI), Hyderabad, in collaboration with other DRDO laboratories and Indian Industry Partners.
The DRDO, in September last year, conducted two successful test flights of the VSHORADS missile from a ground based portable launcher at the Integrated Test Range, Chandipur, off the coast of Odisha.
As per the defence ministry, the missile—which is propelled by a dual thrust solid motor—incorporates many novel technologies including miniaturised Reaction Control System (RCS) and integrated avionics, which were successfully proven during the tests conducted last year. The DRDO has designed the missile and its launcher in a way to ensure easy portability.
How will it help India?
While the exact specifications of the missile are not immediately known, officers in the Army explained that being man portable and lightweight compared to the other missile systems in the Army’s armoury, it can be deployed in the mountains close to the LAC at a short notice.
“When it comes to man portable air defence missiles, there was a critical gap in the Army’s inventory, especially for the eastern and northern borders, though not so much for the western borders with Pakistan, for which India has the Soviet-vintage OSA AK missile systems,” an officer told The Indian Express.
“Others like the Akash Short Range Surface to Air Missile System are heavier with a theatre air defence umbrella of up to 25 km and can be deployed further away from the LAC for static formations,” he said, adding that they may not be the best bet for mountains.
When inducted, they will be a critical air defence missile for the forces, even for an all-equipped infantry unit, and will be the best option for mountain warfare, the officer said.
In a statement Tuesday, the defence ministry said that in view of the recent developments along the northern borders, there is a need to focus on effective Air Defence weapon systems which are man portable and can be deployed quickly in rugged terrain and maritime domain.
It added that the procurement of VSHORAD, as a robust and quickly deployable system, will strengthen India’s air defence capabilities.
When are they expected to be inducted?
The AoN is the first step in the long capital procurement process in defence. Not all AoNs accorded necessarily culminate into a final order.
However, with flight tests having taken place, defence officials estimate the missile systems can be delivered to the forces in another three to four years with industry support if the orders are placed on time.