Armed to the Teeth

Pravin Sawhney

The third International Land and Naval Systems Exhibition (defexpo), organized jointly by the Ministry of Defence and the Confederation of Indian Industry was held in February in New Delhi. It witnessed phenomenal participation by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), public sector under takings, ordnance factory board, private industry and 20 countries including Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, United Kingdom, United State of America, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. Said General Shankar Roychowdhury, Member of Parliament and former army chief, “The participation by the DRDO and public sector undertakings was much more than on earlier occasions.” The crowds, however, were thronging the foreign stalls, especially South African, Russian, Israeli, and the French. The reason was simple. Despite talks of indigenization, India is poised to import nearly 70 per cent of modernization equipment for its Land and Naval forces, and the bulk of this will come from these four countries. As if by a pre-meditated move, these countries had adopted a clever strategy:  the equipment for which negotiations are in various stages with the government of India was not showcased at the defexpo. What was displayed magnanimously was equipment which needs to be sold yet. These countries made extra efforts to demonstrate virtues of their displayed equipment to top army and naval brass which was present in large numbers. For obvious reasons, questions concerning equipment which have been contracted by India were answered very briefly.


South Africa

In the last few years, South Africa has emerged as an important source for equipment. According to Sandile Zungu, Chairman of the Denel board of direction, India and South Africa have a strong relationship going back many years, and India in particular has always been a strong supporter of South Africa’s democratic ideals. Notwithstanding these sentiments, visits of defence personnel between the two countries have increased. Defence minister. George Fernandes inaugurated the defexpo within hours of arriving from Pretoria, and the army chief, General N.C. Vij visited South African defence cooperation. The land forces equipment for which India has signed contracts includes the Truvelo SR 50 Anti-Material Rifles (AMR), the 40mm Multiple Grenade Launcher, more Casspir Mine-Protected Vehicles (MPV) and the M64 Bi-Modular Charge Systems (BMCS). The defence minister has also signed a contract for setting up an ammunition factory at Nalanda, his political constituency, in collaboration with South Africa. All contracts include Transfer of Technology (ToT) as well. India has asked for 700 Truvelo SR 50 AMRs. The rifle, weighing 16 kg, has an efficient muzzle break and a high accuracy. The targets identified for this rifle which has sophisticated electronic guiding and sight equipment, and German engineering, and heavy armaments. India has also signed for 3,200 number of 40mm MGL Mark-I, which since its production in 1983, has been with 26 countries. Specially designed to meet the need for an area weapon with an exceptionally high rate of fire, the revolver type MGL Mark-I is a semi-automatic shoulder-fired launcher capable of firing the full range of standard 40mm low velocity grenades. This makes it a potent weapon against any type of soft-skin vehicle, even armoured personnel carriers, bunkers and the like. The MGL mark-I suits left and right handed soldiers alike. As a light-weight man-carried weapon, it is effective in short range engagements. Designed mainly for Infantry forces, it is used effectively by special and rapid deployment forces and paratroopers.

India has signed a contract for ToT of Casspir MPVs, which are to be assembled in hundreds in the country. Probably the most successful MPV to date, Casspir offers protection against triple-mine detonations under a wheel (21kg of TNT) or double (14kg) under the hull. The MPV has a mine detecting and mine-clearing ability though its compatibility with a number of effective detection and clearing system. The Indian army uses Casspir for road clearance in Jammu and Kashmir by fitting the indigenous Ashi equipment or Taurus equipment to both deactivate and blast Improvised Explosive Devices. India has also signed for delivery of 4,00,000 BMCS from Somchem division of Denel. Deliveries are underway and are slated to complete b y December 2006. The BMCS are meant to enhance the range of 155mm guns and can be used with 39, 45 and 52 calibre guns. According to Denel, by using the M64 BMCS. Its 155mm G6 self-propelled gun achieved a range of 53.6km. This makes the G6 the first 155mm fully qualified and in-service gun and ammunition system to breach the 40km range barrier by a fair margin.

In order to fully exploit the capabilities and performance of South African projectiles and charges, India has decided to purchase Denel’s Self-Propelled (SP) tracked gun, followed by SP wheeled version. The 155mm 52 calibre T6turret, successfully mated with the indigenous Arjun chassis, is called Bhim, and has fired to a range of 42km. Price negotiations between M/s Denel and M/s Bharat Earth Movers Limited for producing three regiments (each with 20 guns) of Bhim in India are over. India has also decided to procure 180 numbers 155mm SP wheeled guns, for which the Price Negotiation Committee has been formed. The T6 52 calibre turret will be mounted on the BEML, manufactured 6×6 wheeled Tatra chassis. While the trails of the Denel hybridized gun system have been successful, two issues need to be noted. First, the cost of the Arjun chassis is much more than that of the T6 turret, and secondly, however good, hybridized system have inherent limitations.

India has also shown a lot of interest in the A109 Light Utility Helicopter (LUH). The A109 was originally developed by Agusta Westland of Italy as an ambulance and rescue helicopter to operate in the mountainous region of Switzerland. The helicopter can fly from critically situated landing spots in adverse climates and from roof helipads in densely populated areas. The A109 can carry out various missions and operations in hot temperatures and high altitudes. Missions include observation and reconnaissance, armed escort, search and rescue, troop/cargo transport, casualty evacuation, liaison and training. In 1999, 30 A109 LUH were ordered for the South African Air Force. Denel Aviation is building 25 of the helicopters. Denel is building the airframes as part of a license production agreement with Agusta Westland, and Thales Avionics has supplied the avionics.

The Indian Army is keen to replace its ageing fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. Even as the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) is the ideal choice, there are a few technical snags which need to be overcome. Probably the biggest is with the gear box ot the ALH which cracks easily. As an interim measure, the government has accepted the need for a limited induction of LUH, especially for the Siachen and Kargil sectors. Therefore, in addition to the A109 LUH, the EC635 LUH built by the Eurocopter Group has also entered the fray. The Eurocopter Group is owned 70 per cent by Aeropatiale France and 30 per cent by Daimler Aerospace of Germany. The EC635 LUH is a light weight twin-engine, eight seats multi-role helicopter with wide use of composite material and crashworthy design seats and fuel system. The LUH is suited for military and paramilitary purposes as utility, training, troops transport, reconnaissance, and search and rescue. Even as the A109 and EC635 LUHs are serious contenders for the Indian order, United States’ Bell helicopter has also put in its bid.



As the successor state of the Soviet Union, Russia remains the biggest arms supplier to India. It has recently sold T-90S tanks, sealed the Gorshkov package, and has had a success story in the joint production of Brahmos supersonic cruise missile. The soon to be signed deals include the Smerch Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL), acquisition of Tunguska M1 air defence system, and 30mm AGS-30 (Automatic Grenade launcher Systems).

India will buy 24 numbers of 300mm Smerch MBRL in 2004. The 12 tubes MBRL has a range of 90 km and has been successfully tested by the Indian Army. The army will also purchase 30 numbers of improved Tunguska M1 air defence systems, which is a gun/missile system for low-level air defence systems. The system can engage targets while stationary and on the move, using missiles for long range targets and guns for close-in-defence. It is designed for defence against both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters and can also fire on ground ‘argets. Tunguska M1 will supplement the existing Tunguska systems with the army’s offensive formations. The improved Tunguska M1 has more range, better communications, improved missiles (9M311-M1 surface to air missiles), and good interdiction capabilities. Validation firing for the weapon system was held in Russia in July 2003, and procurement is at the price negotiations stage.

Meanwhile, talks for purchase of 300 numbers of 30mm AGS-30 along with ToT have concluded successfully. The AGS-30 is a vast improvement over the first-generation Automatic Grenade Launcher-17. With less than half weight of 17kg. AGS-30 has made it possible to enlarge ammunition load, and to increase the weapon mobility and flexibility. The system is intended to engage manpower located in the open, in trenches and on reverse slopes by high performance fragmentation ammunition. Moreover, the small dimension of the grenade launcher allows it to conceal the fire position, rapidly change it, and deliver fire from window openings.

India is keenly looking at the TOR M1 Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system. TOR M1 (the land based version is SAM-15 Gauntlet) low-to-medium lever system is capable of engaging aircraft, helicopters, RPVs, precision guided weapons and various other types of guided missiles. Developed by the Russian Antey company, ‘TOR M1 provides a reliable shield against the above mentioned weapons and platform. It has the capability to automatically track and destroy two targets simultaneously in any weather, during day and night. TOR M1 can be employed for protection of government, industrial and military sites and even ground troops. The system, which is autonomous with a short reaction time, can detect targets at a distance of 25km and kill them at a distance of 12km. To cover such a range of targets, TOR M1 is available in two varieties, quick-reaction and medium-range. The Indian Army is interested in both versions.

In addition to selling new equipment, Rosobornexport, which exports all Russian products, has bid for the upgradation of the T-72 tanks, which require a Fire Control System and a higher power engine. Poland and Ukraine will not find favour after it sold the T-80 tanks to Pakistan. It is well known that India needs to urgently upgrade its T-72 fleet which is the mainstay of its armour. The two Arjun regiments are expected to be in service bye 2006. Russia has supplied 124 numbers of T-90S tanks, and the remaining 186 are to be assembled at the Heavy Vehicle Factory in Avadi. Accordint to sources, Russia is going slow with the delivery of Complete knock Down and Semi Knock Down kits of T-90S tanks as it wants India is expected to take a favourable decision as even the improved T-72 M1 tank (Ajeya) has limitations. Meanwhile, Russia has offered to upgrade the entire equipment range of Soviet Union origin with the Indian Army. This includes the Grad MBRL, Shilka and ZU-23 guns, L-70 air defence guns, SAM-3, SAM-6, SAM-8, and Strela missile system. Regarding the naval systems, a wide range of amphibious craft and air cushion vehicle models which are under consideration of the Indian Navy, were on display at defexpo. The Rubin and the Admiralty yards had showcased models of the Amur 1650 and Amur 950 diesel-electric submarines. The Indian Navy plans to acquire these submarines in the near future.



Indian’s arms business with Israel has reached new heights for a variety of reasons. Israelis are the best in force multipliers ranging from UAVs, missiles, and ammunition to mines clearance equipment and so on. Few countries can beat Israeli upgrades of weapon systems, which is a cost-effective option for longevity of existing equipment. Israeli’s have done commendable work in equipment for Special Forces. And most importantly, Israelis are aggressive in marketing of their wares. For example, Israel is keen to sell its CARPET minefield breaching system to India. As part of its marketing strategy, Israel studied Pakistan’ mine laying spectrum for nearly two years and has offered to pass it to the Indian Army should it seriously consider the CARPET system. Developed by Rafael CARPET is a minefield breaching system consisting of a launcher assembly that contains 20 rockets equipped with fuel-explosive warheads. The system enables breaching a path of 100 metres in a minefield at a high mine clearance efficiency.

Even as there is interest in the CARPET, India has decided to purchase Heron UAVs and Cargo range of ammunition from Israel. Developed by the Israel Aircraft Industries’ MALAT division, Heron is the most modern high-endurance UAV which can accommodate payloads up to 250kg/850 litres and has demonstrated 52 hours of continuous flight. India already has the Searcher I and II UAVs of the MALAT division. Alongside the purchase of Heron, there is interest in India to follow the Israeli thinking on the future of UAVs which could replace manned aircraft in a decade or so. Like in the US, Israel is moving towards blurring the distinction between a UAV and UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles). UAVs are assigned surveillance duties and the UCAVs are meant to carry weapons. As operational experience accumulates the two different roles would get mutated.

In addition to UAVs, India is focused on Israeli equipment for Special Forces and ammunition. After having sold the Tavor 21 assault rifles and the Galil sniper rifles, IMI is concentrated to sell its range of ammunition. The APAM tank ammunition made by Israel Military Industries (IMI) has been accepted by the Indian Army. The APAM multi-purpose anti-personnel and anti-material tank round provides a unique solution for a tank to defeat threat from Infantry anti-tank squads, opponents in urban terrain, helicopters and reinforced bunkers, and to assist Infantry operations. In military parlance, such threats come from ‘dead area’, which the tank commander cannot observe. The APAM round has a main body containing six submunitions with thousand of tungsten cubes for controlled fragmentation. It can also be fired as a unitary round in order to penetrate reinforced (double-bar concrete wall) and armoured targets other than main battle tanks. According to IMI, APAM submunitions are a main battle tank’s only effective protection against enemy helicopters.

The Cargo range of ammunition also developed by the IMI are based on M85bomblets and are available as 155mm rounds (for 39,45 and 52 calibre guns), 130mm and 120mm mortars. These Cargo projectiles are available in Extended Range (ER) versions and Base Bleed (BB) addition. The M85 bomblets are dual purpose (anti-tank and anti-personnel), which due to their Self-Destruct Fuse (SDF) leave almost zero duds in target area. Even as discussion between the two countries have reached the finalization stage for Cargo ammunition, IMI is showcasing a variety of other interesting ammunitions. These include the HORNET-5 dual purpose SDF bomblets for the 105mm calibre guns.

The Indian artillery has shown interest in the IMI’s Trajectory Corrector system (TCM) meant for the indigenous Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher. Given the range limitation of the Pinaka system at 37.5km, the army wants to ensure good accuracy for the MBRL which is to enter service soon. The TCS provides a relatively inexpensive and innovative trajectory corrector which is capable of day and night operations independent of weather condition. The installation of TCS transforms simple rockets into accurate, smart weapons that can destroy targets at ranges of 40km or even more at less cost. IMI claims to have recently conducted successful firings of the TCS as part of a contract with the Israeli Ministry of Defence for the artillery corps to provide accurate rockets for the MBRL systems purchased in the United States. The guidance and navigation system in the TCS rockets has been developed by IMI in cooperation with Elisra that specialises in electronic warfare and communications.

A small private Israeli company called Meprolight Bright Illuminations attracted a lot of attention at the defexpo from army’s Special Forces officers. Founded in 1990, the company specializes in Tritium technology and provides day and night fighting capabilities without use of batteries to soldiers.

Tritium gas is an isotope of Hydrogen with a life of 15 years and emits very low energy radiation in the form of beta rays. This gas has been sealed in Pyrex glass tubes that stop all radiation, and these tubes are sealed inside the product. Tritium beta particles energise a phosphor compound that coats the inside of the glass tube. Phospher emits light when stimulated by beta rays of Tritium gas, and just as in television tubes and florescent lights the surface of the Tritium tube emits light continuously when the phosphor layer is energized. This simple technology has been harnessed by Meprolight to provide illuminating sights on personnel weapons, which decreases target acquisition time while increasing hit probability with both eyes open.

The Israeli giant Rafael was in full bloom at the defexpo. The Indian Army has shown interest in its Spike weapon system; the Spike multi-purpose Medium Range (MR), Long Range (LR) and Spike Extended Range (ER). The Spike MR/LR are man portable and platform adaptable multi-purpose weapon systems designed for urban warfare, ground support and special missions with maximum survivability. The Spike MR is fire-and-forget for autonomous guided medium range target engagement of up to 2,500m, while Spike LR can engage targets up to 4,000m. Meanwhile, the Spike ER is a multi-purpose, electro-optic missile especially suited for combat helicopters and is effective at ranges up to 8,000m. While expressing satisfaction at the Spike family, sources in the army say that this weapon system could only be considered after the tenth plan in 2007.

This, however did not dampen Rafael spirits. For the first time, at the defexpo, Rafael exhibited its SPYDER-Short Range air defence system. The SPYDER-SR, surface to air phython and Derby air defence system is a quick reaction, low level missile system designed to counter attacks by air-craft, helicopters, UAVs and PGMs. The two proven missiles, Python is an Imaging Infra Red (IIR) and Derby is an Active Radar (AR) system. The intercept envelop of SPYDER spans from less than 1km to 15km against targets flying at altitudes between 20m and 9,000m. Also on display was the Air Defence Missiles System (ADMS) which fires Vshorad missiles and is an advanced self propelled air defence system. In addition, Rafael had displayed its range of Typhoon family designed for small and medium sized boats, but is also useful for large vessels. Except for the Barak missile which has been accepted by the Indian Navy, which hopes to add more numbers in the near future, much of Rafael’s equipment on display would have to wait for attention of India’s defence planners. However, an interesting observation by Major General Aria Mizrachi, Chairman of IMI, summed up why Israel, whose defence industry started a decade after India’s has surpassed most countries in providing practical weapon system solutions at good prices. He said, “Israel’s focus is on research and development. Scientists in Israel are reserve soldiers, so they routinely get to the battlefield and into the shoes of the soldiers to understand their requirements in terms of equipment, clothing, and weaponry.”



Even as the French await clearance of the six Scorpene Type 75 submarine megadeal, which may not be possible until the installation of the next government in New Delhi, India and France are expected to clinch the deal for Aster 30 missile system.

Called Aster 30 SAMP/T, the weapon system is meant for land based area defence against aircraft and cruise missiles, and is ideal for protection of high value areas. It can operate in stand alone mode or be integrated in a meshed network. The weapon comprise a Fire Control System based on the Arabel (made by Thales) multi-function electronic radar, vertical launchers with each module containing eight ready-to-fire missile and the Aster 30 anti-missile missiles. The core of this weapon system is the Arabel FCS which provides unique operational capabilities against all current and future cruise missiles. The Arabel FCS has been validated by the French and Italian forces and is under production.

India has also purchased Laser Target Designators needed for its special Forces from France (page 23, FORCE, Vol 1 No 3). Moreover, Thales recently supplied 300 Hand Held Thermal Imagers (HHTI). India’s Bharat Electronics Limited will soon enter into a contract with Thales for an additional 1,600 HHTI for Infantry battalions. Thales is also eyeing the Indian Navy to supply radars. Also on display were the LW08, long range D-brand radar system, SMART-L and the 3D long range surveillance radar. Thales, which specializes in underwater systems, has a range of equipment from sonars, mine warfare systems, anti-torpedo systems to masts, communications, and periscopes for submarines. Thales is a supplier to all three services and now owns the Dutch Signals which has collaboration with Bharat Electronic Limited. The MBDA (EADS Aerospatiale Matra) has signed with Bharat Dynamics Limited to upgrade the existing Milan-2 anti-tank missile which is being licence produced in India. Milan-2 has a signal shaped charge warhead for use against thick and composite armour. Milan-3 missiles are armed with tandem charge for use against reactive armour. Milan-3 will be equipped with MIRA thermal sight with a range of 4km, and produced by Thales.

The Indian Army has started negotiations for the French Panhard light-weight armoured multi-role vehicle termed VBL for reconnaissance by its armoured and mechanized Infantry. Fully amphibious, the vehicle can be used both for reconnaissance and anti-tank purposes. It has been with the French Army since 1990 besides 20 other countries including Kuwait. The VBL is propelled in water by a single propeller mounted under the rear of the hull and has a maximum water speed of 4.5km/h. It is armed with a 7.62mm machine gun but has a variety of options. These include cannon or grenade launchers and anti-tank guided missiles. The deal, if finalized, could be for over 500 ABLs. Considering that defence interaction with France has increased, 24 of its companies including Turbomecca, Sagem, Sofema were at the defexpo.



Meanwhile, the CII, which was a co-partner with the MoD for the defexpo was represented well, notably by Larsen & Toubro, Tata, Mahindra, Ashok Leyland and so on. Despite the outward euphoria displayed by the industry, things have not been bright. The government has moved little beyond allowing full participation to the industry in defence production on paper, and by permitting 26 per cent Foreign Direct Investment in the defence sector. The problem areas are many. There is very little information flow from MoD to industry about the production opportunities. This is leading to problems to identify key areas where industry can form a consortium to meet the present and future defence requirements. Moreover, the industry remains in the dark about the process of licensed defence production for systems and sub-systems, To overcome these hurdles, the MoD had agreed to form Joint Specialist Groups (JSG) in certain areas with the CII in 2002. The areas are special stores, night version devices, combat and specialist vehicles, weapons and equipment, aeronautical and aviation requirements marine and naval systems, communication, and info-warfare.

The little progress of the JSG was evident at the defexpo. The L&T public relations officer, D. Bhramachari inadvertently spilled the beans when he said that,“We have been waiting for Pinaka MBRL orders for a long time. We do not know how many launchers are to be produced.” Configured around the Tatra vehicle, L&T is to supply launchers for Pinaka. An interesting display by L&T was the Universal Missile Launcher, which is a mobile multi-role launcher, configured on a wheeled vehicle and is designed to launch surface to air missile is inclined as well as in vertical modes. A senior L&T official, who did not want to be named, said that the launcher prototype has been made on instructions by the DRDO. However, no information has been given by the DRDO about where and how it will be employed and what would be the production order. L&T, which is India’s largest integrated engineering and construction company has produced prototype for the Naganti-tank missile carrier to be mounted on an armoured platform like BMP-II, and composite barrel which, with suitable modifications, can accommodate a range of indigenous missiles. L&T has a full-fledged design and development facility for advanced composite products for defence, aviation and aerospace sectors. The company is doing work in other important areas also. These include ship-based launch systems for torpedoes and naval rocket launchers in addition to making various engineering equipment for the army. The latter include making bridging systems in steel and aluminum, which are integrated with sophisticated hydraulic and electronic controls. Even as the giant companies have ample hope and little knowledge about production orders, a whole lot of small private companies which specialize in a few items were present at the defexpo. A case in point is the Hyderabad based HBL-Nife, which specializes in batteries for aircraft, a select electronics items, and interestingly, products like bullet-proof jackets. The last has been a sore point with the army which finds the DRDO made bullet-proof jackets too heavy. India, therefore, has been importing bullet proof jackets. This raises a lot of questions. Should such low-level technology items, such as bullet-proof jackets be made by the DRDO? Shouldn’t these be out-sourced to the private industry? Does that not imply more transparency in the MoD? These are issues which all informed people know of, but few are willing to say. Until this happens, foreign arms companies will continue to have a field day in India. The government plans to achieve indigenous content in defence systems to the extent of 70 per cent by 2005 will remain a pope-dream.



Also Read:

Goodies Galore

The defence modernization fund will benefit arms dealers more than the soldiers

Also Read:

Breathing Life

Where machines fail, DRDO takes care of the men


Call us