February 19, 2013: India and France recently agreed to a $6 billion deal to develop a new short range surface-to-air missile system, called Maitri. This will actually be a continuation of the failed Trishul system, which was cancelled five years ago. Rather than repeat the same mistakes all over again with Maitri, India decided to seek outside help. This decision was opposed by bureaucrats within the DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization). DRDO was responsible for Trishnul and many other expensive failures.
The Trishul anti-aircraft missile system was beset with problems from the beginning. After a few successful launches, there were still problems with the guidance system (glitches in 3-beam accuracy and getting millimeter wave radar components from a foreign supplier). The Trishul system had an impressive list of problems. The project was first cancelled in 2003, after two decades of failure and cost overruns. But developing weapons is politically popular and worth a lot of money to Indian manufacturers and corrupt Indian politicians. Although cancelled, the project was kept going for research purposes, or on the odd chance that it might eventually prove superior to the Barak system that was being purchased from Israel, to do what Trishul was designed to do. Barak works but Trishul is made-in-India, and that counts for a lot. India is determined to develop a domestic arms industry that can design and build world class systems. This takes time and involves a lot of embarrassing situations like this.
Trishul had been in development since 1983. First test firing took place in 1991, and the manufacturer declared test firings completed by 1998. The armed forces, however, rejected the missile as not ready for service. So development continued, until 2003, when the project was cancelled. But the project, which had cost nearly $200 million thus far, had political friends. Development was allowed to continue, even though neither the army nor the navy wanted it. The missile has a range of some nine kilometers and has suffered mainly from persistent reliability problems, particularly with its guidance system. Trishul was finally put down for good in 2008, but the DRDO bureaucrats and their political allies are already seeking to get around the growing number of anti-corruption measures and make deals with the French firms that are to help (for large fees) make Maitri work.
Maitri is, like Trishul meant to be, a short range (nine kilometers) system with an AESA radar. If DRDO takes heed of the French advice and does not try to improve the French technology, Maitri should work. But never underestimate DRDO’s ability to mess it up.