The supersonic Barak-8 missile system, whose interception range has been increased from the earlier 70-km to around 100-km, will be now tested from Indian destroyer INS Kolkata "within a month", said sources.
Once the long-range SAM system is fully operational in around two years, all Indian frontline warships will be equipped with this all-weather "defence shield" against incoming enemy fighters, drones, helicopters, missiles and other munitions.
"It will be the standard LR-SAM or area defence weapon for our warships, much like the 290-km BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles (developed jointly with Russia) have become the standard precision strike weapon on them. PSU Bharat Dynamics is already gearing up for producing the LR-SAM systems in bulk," said an official.
The Rs 2,606 crore LR-SAM development project was sanctioned for Indian warships in December 2005 but was hit by several delays. The reasons ranged from mid-way upward revision of performance requirements and development of some new technologies to the technological challenge of "combustion instability of rocket motors" that took a long time to resolve.
The delays led to the commissioning of the new 7,000-tonne destroyers INS Kolkata and INS Kochi over the last one year without effective missile defence shields. Even the country's largest and most powerful warship, the 45,400-tonne aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya acquired from Russia for $2.33 billion, faced the same fate. The Navy then cannibalized an Israeli Barak-I anti-missile system for the carrier from the retiring frigate INS Godavari.
Fourteen Indian warships, including aircraft carrier INS Viraat, are currently equipped with the Barak-I system, "a point defence weapon" with an interception range of just 9-km, acquired from Israel after the 1999 Kargil conflict. The new LR-SAM system with Barak-8 interceptor missiles, which have "active seekers" for terminal guidance, is a much more advanced version with extended interception range.
"INS Kolkata is already equipped with the missile launchers, weapon control systems with data links and MF-STAR (multi-function surveillance and threat alert radar) of the LR-SAM," said the official.
All frontline operational as well as under-construction warships, like the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, five destroyers and seven stealth frigates, will progressively be fitted with the Barak-8 systems.
Similarly, the ground-based version of Barak-8, which was sanctioned in February 2009 for Rs 10,076 crore, will be utilized by the IAF to plug the existing gaps in air defence coverage of the country.