ATGM Delayed Development and Critical Deficiencies

It is imperative that Infantry be equipped with an advanced ATGM with better accuracy, day and night capabilities and increased survivability which also lends itself to higher mobility due to its weight configuration to meet the enhanced threats.

 India has been looking for a modern Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) to take the place of second generation Milan and Konkurs ATGMs of different variants produced by DPSU Bharat Dynamics under license from French and Russian companies; based on vintage technology and most of them having been in service for more than three decades. The current systems are deficient in advanced technologies, primarily the guidance parameters (guided by wire), short range and do not have night-fighting capabilities that mark the third and higher generation versions. Hence, it has become imperative for the Infantry to be equipped with an advanced high technology based ATGM system with better accuracy, day and night capabilities and increased survivability which also lends itself to higher mobility due to its weight configuration to meet the enhanced threat.

The Indian Army has a long overdue requirement of around 70,000  anti-tank guided/strike missiles of various types and over 850 launchers to equip 382 infantry battalions and 44 mechanized infantry. However, it does not have even half of that number in the inventory, i.e. a shortage of over 40,000 missiles (approximately 50%) of its requirement has “nil” war wastage reserves (stockpiles held in reserve for war) is seen. The Army units deployed in the plains are supposed to be armed with four medium-range and long-range ATGM launchers (each with six missiles), while, the units in Mountains Division are required to be equipped with one Launcher of each type along with six missiles.

 Procurement Saga

On the backdrop of the critical deficiency and not even having the authorized scale of ATGMs in its arsenal, the Army expressed its interest to procure anti-tank missiles around 2006 but it was only in 2011 that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) came out with a tender for the purchase of 8356 missiles and 321 ATGM systems worth $1Billion approx which however fell flat. As though after extensive user trials, the Army selected the third-generation Israeli Spike ATGM (MR variant) over the FGM-148 Javelin ATGM based on cost and technology transfer factors but after years of prolonged negotiations it abandoned the plan in 2017, in favour of indigenous manufacturing after assurance by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) of timely development (in next 2-3 years) of the indigenous ATGM missile development programmes - Nag and MPATGM missiles. The Spike ATGM was to be produced in India in collaboration with the Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) via transfer of technology. The Israeli company had also entered into a joint venture with the Kalyani Group for local production of the missile. The Spike MR variant was chosen which is a man portable system with a range of 2.5 km and equipped with a tandem HEAT warhead capable of top attack mode.

NAG ATGM Development

The Army was hoping to induct the indigenously developed Nag ATGMs as soon as possible as assured by the DRDO but the customary delays by the research organization have meant that the product continues to await induction even after decades. Noteworthy, the missile has been under development since 2009 and almost Rs 10000 Crores has been spent on the programme. The Indian Army is likely to procure around 8000 Nag ATGMs with an initial order of 443 Nag missiles and 13 NAMICA stracked ATGM launchers. However, till date, no contract has been signed between the Defence Ministry and Bharat Dynamics who will be eventually manufacturing Nag missiles.

It also still remains doubtful as to whether the Army's concerns including the high cost of the missiles as well as various technical limitations have been attended to. Basically, Nag is a fire-and-forget ATGM with 'top attack' capabilities and a range of about four km, but it is not man portable it is heavier and is carried in a tracked BMP. The missile's targeting system is based on visual identification prior to its launch ('lock-on-before-launch system').The missile is launched from the NAG missile carrier (NAMICA- license-produced variant of the BMP-II armored infantry fighting vehicle) which is capable of carrying up to 12 combat missiles.

Man Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile

Another variety of ATGM developed by the DRDO is the Man Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile (MPATGM); third-generation fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missile which is currently under development since 2015 and still undergoing trials.The missile is being developed by DRDO in partnership with Indian defence private company VEM Technologies Private Limited and eventually will be manufactured by BDL at a facility located in Bhanoor, Telengana. The MPATGM, a derivative of Nag ATGM, reportedly has an engagement range of about 2.5 kilometers. The mass production of the missile is expected to begin in 2021, but may be delayed. Also, the Indian Army is cynical of MPATGM capabilities and does not believe that it will be meet its operational requirements.

 Army Emergency Purchase

Sensing that the indigenous route would most likely create delay in meeting the massive requirement, the Army has recently bought a limited number of fourth generation Spike ATGM (LR variant), as part of an “emergency purchase” to cater for their immediate requirement until theNag/MPATGM is ready for induction, using its discretionary funds. The deal signed with Israel's Rafael Company includes the import of 240 Spike LR missiles and 12 launchers worth over Rs 280 Crores ($167 Million). Israeli-made Spike ATGM are man-portable, fourth-generation system, which can engage targets in 'fire-and-forget' and 'fire-observe-and-update' modes, will “enhance operational flexibility and crew survivability”. It also has the ability to switch to a different target mid-flight, should the firer want to do so. Dual mode seeker of the system allows precise engagement both during day and night.  The system also has top attack capability to enhance the lethality of the missile against tank targets. With the procurement of Spike LR missiles, the Indian Army may might have to rethink of having the indigenously developed third generation missiles Nag & MPATGM  as having a far much better fourth generation missile will undoubtedly make the plan for development of a third generation missile questionable. Also, the order is anticipated to be repeated if the man-portable ATGM being developed by DRDO is not ready by next year as the Army now do not want to be slowed down any longer in plugging critical operational deficiencies.

Further, the Army has also decided to procure 5000 Milan-2T anti-tank missiles worth Rs 1200 Crores as a stopgap arrangement, which are of more recent vintage - it was developed as a counter to 'reactive armour' in the 1990s.

In another development, US which has so far been reluctant to part with the latest generation of technology for Javelin, has been reported to have now agreed to part with new-generation Javelin for co-production in India. It is ready to offer new-generation Javelin Anti-tank Guided Missiles through the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and if the deal is finalized it will be made in India under `Make II' category.” Previously, India had come very close to purchasing the Javelin weapon, through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, but the US had refused to transfer technology for the system and the proposal finally fell through in 2010. Lockheed Martin developed and manufactured Javelin missile is a fire-and-forget missile with lock-on before launch and automatic self-guidance. The system takes a top-attack flight profile (with a peak altitude of 150m) against armored vehicles but can also take a direct-attack/fire mode (with a peak altitude of 60 m) for use against buildings, targets inside the minimum top-attack engagement range, and targets under obstructions It is equipped with an imaging infrared seeker.

Sum Up

Whether it's indigenous or imported ATGM, the matter of fact is that because of the non-timely induction of any of these systems the Indian Army continues to suffer from shortage of anti-tank guided missiles. Though, India has taken the ATGM development programme and has made limited headway in some of the technologies to develop ATGM comparable with the world-class systems, however it is believed that due to limitations in some of the critical technologies the project has not fully met the defence specifications. Thus, it can be said that the decision of MoD in lieu of favoring indigenization over modernization has not been reasonable enough as not only both the indigenous development ATGM programmes - Nag and MPATGM  are facing huge developmental costs and time overrun but also now with introduction of fourth generation missile globally will result in Army having outdated technology by the time the indigenous anti guided missiles (both of which are third generation) inducted.The likely approach by India should be to meet its current need by off-the- shelf procurement of the product as well as the transfer of technology and joint development with the leading missile companies, this would not only speed up self-sufficiency in the field of missile defence but also development of Defence Industrial Base (DIB).

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