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September 19, 1998


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India develops multi-barrel rocket launcher system

Michael Gonsalves in Pune

Till recently, only the US, Russia and Brazil used the multi-barrel rocket launcher system technology, intended to provide high-volume firepower. India has joined the club now following work in the area done by the Pune-based Armament Research and Development Establishment.

The Pinaka system, to be inducted by the end of this year, is expected to give the army a decisive edge in war.

"Production is already on at various ordnance factories and four public sector undertakings will meet the December 1998 delivery deadline after the system was successfully test-fried in Pokhran recently," said ARDE Director Dr Sudharshan Kumar Salwan, adding that it would give India an edge, particularly against Pakistan which does not have the system yet.

Scientific advisor to the defence minister, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, chief of the Indian Army Staff, General Ved Prakash Malik, and Defence Minister George Fernandes had visited ARDE recently and given a green signal to the high volume Pinaka project, Salwan said.

Salwan said India's MLRS were better in performance and equal in every respect to the systems developed in the USA, Russia and Brazil. Salwan said the indigenously designed MLRS was far cheaper, costing just Rs 23 million per system. By comparison the M270 MLRS of the US, developed along with France and Germany, costs Rs 195 million, and both the 9P140 URAGAN of Russia and the ASTROS-II of Brazil cost Rs 38 million each.

"Once the requirement of the Indian army is met, we will compete with these countries to market Pinaka to developing countries in the world market. Mass production of the sophisticated Indian version will make it even cheaper, while still maintaining world standards," Salwan said.

He said Pinaka, a multi-disciplinary and multi-technology system, had been developed to fulfil the Indian Army's specific requirement of destroying targets in ranges exceeding 30 km with high volume firepower. But the technology developed could be scaleable and customised for higher ranges to suit one's requirement, he said.

Pinaka calls for the use of six launcher vehicles in the battery. Each launcher can fire a salvo of 12 rockets with 1.2 tonnes of high explosives in less than 40 seconds. The range varies from a minimum of seven km to a maximum of 39 km. And the firepower of a battery of six launchers can, in one salvo, cause devastation in an area covering 700m x 500m. The battery has a replenishment-cum-loader vehicle for each launcher, and a command post vehicle with a fire-control computer.

Salwan said the 214 mm free flight artillery rocket developed for Pinaka can carry different warheads, be they pre-fragmentation high explosives, incendiary warheads, anti-tank and anti-personnel minelettes and anti-tank bomlettes. The system has a night vision device for the driver and crew and a microprocessor-based fully automatic positioning and fire control consoles, Salwan said.

For the first time, the Indian Army will have concentrated accurate high volume firepower at higher range to destroy the enemy targets, he said.

Established in 1958, ARDE is the largest of the 40 armament labs under Defence Research and Development Organisation supervision in the country. It employs over 1700 scientists, engineers, officers in uniform, technical and industrial staff.

The ARDE's main role is to make the nation independent of foreign technology in critical areas while continuing basic and applied research in armament technology.

The ARDE is now also on the verge of developing 'smart' munitions, capable of searching or identifying a target to home in for a hit, unlike conventional weapons that depend only on the initial aiming and directing.

Smart munitions would reduce the expenditure incurred on stockpiles and improve the ratio between attacks and hits.

The technical trials were successful, and smart version of munitions are expected to be out shortly, Salwan said.

The ARDE also plans to produce high-tech munitions named 'Brilliant' and 'Intelligent' that will incorporate sensor technologies using laser, millimetre wave radar, imaging infra-red, charge coupled devices, acoustics and combinations of these to sense and lock onto a target.

Dr Kalam has drawn up a "road map" for the ARDE to develop a family of such precision munitions, ranging from the artillery gun and mortar missiles to air-launched stand-off weapons.

Advanced countries like the US, Sweden, France, Russia and Germany, which already have developed a whole range of 'smart' munitions, displayed the power of these during the Gulf war, the first time they were deployed in war in a big way.

Salwan said "Brilliant" when deployed, would check the characteristics of the area, and hit only what looked like the target. But "Intelligent", equipped with SCAN (Seeing Co-relations Areas Navigation) could even distinguish between home and enemy tanks.

He also said warheads for the family of integrated guided missiles -- Prithvi, Akash, Trishul and Nagar were in advanced stages of development, 'user trials' of the various kinds having been completed.

However, citing security reasons, Salwan refused to divulge more details.

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