The Long & The Short

Homegrown or imported, Indian Army enhances its inventory of ground-based missiles

Smruti Deshpande

The Indian defence forces and the DRDO have been on a spree of testing different missiles in a way of strategic posturing. This came in the backdrop of Indian Army’s ongoing standoff with China at the Galwan Valley in Ladakh. Of the many tests conducted by the DRDO were tests of different surface-to-air missiles (SAM). These missiles are radar or infrared guided missiles fired from a ground position to intercept or destroy enemy aircraft or missiles. The importance of having SAMs in the arsenal is that they protect ground deployments from hostile air attacks by high-altitude bombers. The DRDO has, jointly with several foreign companies, developed SAMs of different ranges.


Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missiles

MRSAM missile during tests

The two among the most recent missiles to be test-fired in India were the Medium Range Surface to Air Missiles (MRSAM) at the Integrated Test Range launch PAD-III at Chandipur in March 2022. After these tests, the DRDO confirmed completing tests of the weapon’s Army variant too.

The MRSAM was developed by the DRDO in collaboration with the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI). During these tests, four successful interceptions were conducted in various scenarios at different ranges, using different angles. Mainly, the tests were done to intercept a medium-altitude long-range target and a low-altitude short-range target. The DRDO tested the efficacy by testing it in sea-skimming and high-altitude modes, which then led to the development trials of the system.

During the tests, two interceptors were launched from a portable land-based system and two from a naval-based system. The system’s radar was successful in detecting all four interceptors.

The MRSAM resembles the Israeli Barak-8 missiles but has been altered to meet Indian needs. The MRSAM can shoot down fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles and provide 360-degree defence against aerial threats. The MRSAM has a range of up to 70 kilometres and a maximum speed of Mach 2.

The weapon system consists of a mobile launcher system, which can launch eight canisterized missiles, and a multi-function radar to track and monitor targets. The combat management system uses the information sent from the radar to calculate the distance of the target and launch an attack.

It was in September 2021 that the IAF was handed over its first MRSAM at Jaisalmer. The missiles, which are called ‘network-centric combat air defence systems’, provide protection against enemy aircraft and tactical missiles. The DRDO has to its credit about 20-30 percent of the development of the missile, which includes the missile’s propulsion system, which is based on a sophisticated dual-pulse rocket motor, thrust vector controls, and electrical harness (wiring). The IAI, which has done the larger share of work, has designed and developed the Elta MF-Star radar. In an interview to FORCE, IAI President and CEO, Boaz Levy said, “Most prominently, IAI and DRDO jointly co-developed the MRSAM air and missile defence system, which was tested and inducted just last year. IAI looks forward to cooperating with the DRDO on future projects.” The MRSAM contract was signed in 2009 but had been delayed due to technological challenges.

It is composed of a mobile launcher system, built to store, transport, and launch eight canisterised missiles or missiles that can be launched at short notice, either individually or simultaneously. The multi-function radar helps seamless identification and monitoring of targets.

The Indian Navy too uses these missiles, which are known as Long-Range Surface to Air Missile (LRSAM). These missiles are helpful in protecting Indian warships from anti-ship missiles. The LRSAM Missile system can provide point and area defence against various aerial targets including fighter aircraft, subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles. The LRSAM missile system can provide point and area defence against aerial targets including fighter aircraft, subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles. The LRSAM system end to end performance has been successfully demonstrated through a number of user flight trials from Indian Naval ships and has been successfully produced and delivered to the Indian Navy. The missile is powered by indigenously developed dual- pulse rocket motor and dual control system to impart required manoeuvrability at the terminal phase.


Short Range Surface-to-Air Missiles

The DRDO test fired a quick-reaction surface-to-air missile developed by the DRDO from a vertical launcher, in December last year. A vertical-launched short-range surface-to-air missile (SRSAM) was successfully flight tested at an integrated test range off the coast of Odisha on Tuesday by the DRDO.

The missile will be deployed onboard various frontline ships of the Indian Navy. The aim behind this test was to ‘validate’ the integrated operation of all weapon system components including the vertical launcher unit with controller, canisterised flight vehicle, weapon control system. The launch was conducted from a vertical launcher against an electronic target at a very low altitude. The flight path of the vehicle along with health parameters was monitored using a number of tracking instruments deployed by the Integrated Test Range, Chandipur.

The missile has an operational range of 50 to 60 km and features mid-course inertial guidance through fibre optic gyroscope and active radar homing in terminal phase. Designed and developed by DRDO for the Indian Navy, the VL-SRSAM is capable of neutralising various aerial threats at close ranges including sea-skimming targets. The missile system can provide point and area defence against various aerial targets like jets, fighter aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles. With high kill probability, it can identify, track, engage and destroy targets at a range of up to 40 km.


Anti-Tank Guided Missiles

The Times of India reported that the Army and IAF had now begun to induct advanced Israeli anti-tank guided missiles with longer ranges and greater armour-penetration capabilities, amid the two-year long military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh. Israeli tank killers were ordered under emergency procurements last year.

India opted for the third-generation Israeli Spike Medium-Range ATGM. A total of 240 missiles and 12 launchers were ordered. Designed by the Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Spike is a fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missile and anti-personnel missile with a tandem-charge HEAT warhead. The Army is inducting the SPIKE LR-2 launchers and missiles, which have a ground strike range of 5.5 km. while the IAF is integrating its Russian-origin Mi-17 V5 armed helicopters with SPIKE NLOS (non-line of sight) missiles that can destroy ground targets around 30-km away, the TOI report stated.

The Spike ATGM can penetrate around one meter of the armour and can be operated in either ‘direct attack or mid-course navigation based on target coordinates only’. This helps in defeating the long-range hidden targets, with pinpoint precision, damage assessment and real-time intelligence. India had also procured the 4th-generation Spike LR (long-range) missiles in early December 2020. India opted for Spike ATGMs over the American Javelin Missiles, produced by Lockheed Martin. While Israel agreed on the ToT and manufacturing in India, America did not, which is why the Spike missile was opted.

In 2020, the Indian Army also inducted the Nag ATGMs which were under development since the 80s. Nag ATGM was successfully tested in desert conditions in 2018, after which, last year, the Army was preparing to induct these into the service.

The DRDO tested the indigenously developed low weight, fire and forget Man Portable Anti Tank Guided Missile (MPATGM) in January 2022. The indigenously developed Man-Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile (MPATGM) is a low weight, ‘fire and forget’ missile. The defence ministry said that the anti-tank missile was flight-tested in its final ‘deliverable configuration.’ ‘The missile impacted the designated target and destroyed it. The final impact event was captured on camera and the test has validated the minimum range successfully,’ it said. The laser-guided ATGMs, uses a ‘tandem’ High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) warhead. This Laser Guided ATGM has been developed by two Pune based facilities of the DRDO’s Armament and Combat Engineering Cluster—the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) and High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL)—in association with Instruments Research & Development Establishment (IRDE), Dehradun. MPATGM are designed to be fired from the tanks.

A range of ATGMs on display

Recently, in April 2022, India flight-tested Helina, an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), in Pokhran. The test was part of user validation trials of the third generation ‘fire and forget’ class missiles developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The flight test was conducted by teams from DRDO, the Army and the Air Force.

The flight trials were conducted from an indigenously developed Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and the missile was fired successfully, engaging a simulated tank target in the Pokhran desert ranges. The missile is guided by an Infrared Imaging Seeker (IIR) operating in the ‘lock on before launch’ mode. Helina has a maximum range of seven kilometres and has been designed and developed for integration on weaponized versions of the ALH. Helina has been developed by Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad under the Missiles and Strategic Systems (MSS) cluster of the DRDO. Successful user trials of this missile have been conducted since 2018. Helina, which has a maximum range of seven km, has been designed and developed for integration on weaponized versions of the ALH. It has been developed for integration with choppers in both the Army and the Air Force. The Air Force version of Helina is also referred to as Dhruvastra. Helina can engage targets both in direct hit mode as well as top attack mode.

While the Indian Army mainly uses various imported anti-tank guided missiles, the DRDO has been working on ATGMs that can be launched from different platforms as part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. In recent times, this has led the army to procure indigenously built missiles. The army’s inventory mainly consists of Milan-2T and Konkurs produced by DPSU Bharat Dynamics under French and Russian companies.



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