The Indian tender process for Very Short Range Air Defence Systems (VSHORAD) is at a curious juncture following final user trials held in India in May this year.
The Indian armed forces have been running a tri-service tender competition for VSHORAD systems since 2010 for 5185 missiles and 800 launchers.
There were three contenders for the order: the Russian Igla-S system, the Saab RBS70NG and the MBDA Mistral. Although the Indian Army already operates a version of the Igla, the Russian system failed the tracking element of the user trials in May. In fact, the Russian system has never been able to successfully prosecute a target under the summer sun in an Indian desert. The Saab system, which was perceived to be overweight in terms of one of its components, managed to display a compliant weight reduction and track the target.
The Saab system was to be judged on weight alone, since it had already cleared all other trials. After the system was dismantled to prove weight, which was compliant with the requirements, the competition asked that it be tested for firing and tracking. The Swedish test team powered up the system and tracked the target over 40 times. In one instance, they were then asked to fire and the RBS70 missile tracked the aerial target and flew past it.
This has been curiously interpreted by some to imply a failure of the Swedish system, even though firing was not meant to be a measure in the May trials. Tracking and kill requirements were tested earlier in the process and the RBS70 was found compliant with the RFP.
The RBS70 is a laser-based system and, as such, its disassembled, man-portable components are structured differently from other systems. While the RFP requires a weight distribution of 25 kg for the missile, 25 kg for the firing station and 20 kg for the sight with power-pack, the weight distribution of the Swedish system is different. The Swedes were asked to prove the weight distribution of the RBS70 because its sight included the laser and weighs 25 kg while the firing station comprises the stand with the power-pack and weighs 20 kg.
Saab disassembled the components at the May trials and proved its compliance with the weight requirements of the RFP.
And while the selective interpretation in this case remains a matter of discussion, the competing MBDA Mistral has failed compliance on one separate measure, completely. The system has fallen short of requirements measured by the EMI EMC test. The EMI EMC (Electro Magnetic Interference Electro Magnetic Compatibility) test involves the placement of the system in a chamber to measure the amount of radiation emitted by the system and is also subjected to radiation to measure its compatibility with emissions from simulated surrounding systems. This is especially important in restricted environments such as warships, where many radiation-emitting systems are in close proximity to each other and cannot be allowed to interfere or affect the performance of a proximate system in any way.
The MBDA Mistral systems deployed in European military forces rely on a variety of radars, including the Saab Giraffe AMB 3D radar. MBDA has opted for a pairing with the Israeli Elta radar in its Indian VSHORAD pitch. There is some speculation that this could have contributed to the failure of the system in the EMI EMC test. The French have had integration issues with the Mistral and the radar, earlier in the trials.
What is up in the air is whether the three services will sign off on the EMI EMC test failure and excuse the non-compliance of the MBDA Mistral.
Interestingly, a defense ministry CNC (Contract Negotiation Committee) is currently negotiating separate orders for helicopter-mounted Mistral systems.
The VSHORAD order was expected to be worth INR 27,000 crores, (USD 4.1 billion in today’s terms) when it was first conceived in 2010. It is included in the Indian armed forces list of high priority acquisition programs.