Guided Strike

The Indian Army must transition to latest ATGMS

Atul Chandra

Despite nearly a decade of effort, the Indian Army still faces a shortfall in modern anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM). Plans to modernise the army and equip more than 380 infantry battalions and over 40 mechanised infantry units with modern ATGMs have not fructified.

In 2018 the army faced a shortfall of approximately 68,000 ATGMs and apart from second generation ATGMs such as the Milan-2T and Konkurs-M, produced under license in India and emergency procurements of Rafael Spike ATGMs, there appears to be no formal procurement process under-way for induction of large numbers of 4th or 5th generation ATGMs. The Indian Army inducted its first 4th generation ATGM in the Israeli Spike Long Range (LR) a few years ago, which were purchased as part of a Rs280 crore deal. The ministry of defence (MoD) had scrapped a November 2017 deal worth USD1billion to procure 5,500 missiles in favour of indigenous alternatives.

The outdated 2nd generation ATGMs such as the Milan-2T and Konkurs-M are manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) under license from their respective original equipment manufacturers (OEM). The ageing Milan-2T and Konkurs-M ATGMs are unlikely to be effective against modern armour and infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) and main battle tanks (MBT) equipped with the latest active protection systems (APS).

In January, Saab announced that it had received an order to supply its AT4 single-shot weapon for army and air force Special Forces (SF) units. India has also been a longstanding user of Saab’s Carl-Gustaf system. The AT4 is operated by a single soldier and single-shot 84mm calibre weapon and has proven its efficacy against structures, landing craft, helicopters, armoured vehicles and personnel.

The Spike LR man-portable ATGMs have been operational with the army for a few years now. The ATGM has a dual mode seeker which allows precise engagement both during day and night and also has top attack capability to enhance its lethality against tank targets. With ranges of up to 32 km and fire-and-update capabilities, the Spike family today consists of five variants (SR, MR, LR2, ER2, NLOS). The Spike ATGM has been sold to 35 countries, with over 33,000 missiles already supplied and more than 6,000 fired in tests and in combat. Spike missiles have been integrated onto 45 different vehicular, helicopter and naval platforms and are in service with 19 NATO nations as well.


Outdated Orders

Left with no alternative, the army has entered into contracts to procure additional numbers of Milan-2T and Konkurs-M ATGMs. BDL received a Rs 3,131.82 crore contract in February for supply of Konkurs-M ATGMs for the army with deliveries to be completed by 2025. The Konkurs-M has a maximum range of 4,000m and a flight time of 19 seconds. It can be launched either from BMP-II tank or from ground launcher. BDL has augmented its manufacturing capacity to meet domestic as well as overseas demand for the Konkurs-M.

The Russian origin ATGM is being manufactured by BDL under license agreement with the Russian OEM and has been indigenised to a large extent (90 per cent) and is also being offered for export. In August 2020, the MoD announced that BDL had indigenously developed Konkurs Missile Test Equipment (KMTE) and Konkurs Launcher Test Equipment (KLTE) that would replace imported systems from Russia and save foreign exchange worth US$ 17.7 million. BDL is also setting up a new Seeker Facility Centre (SFC) for manufacture of RF seekers for missile systems. BDL will manufacture and test indigenously developed warheads for the Konkurs-M at the new SFC.

BDL also continues to produce the Milan-2T and received an order for 4,960 ATGMs for the army at a cost of Rs 1,188 crore in March last year. Deliveries were to be completed by 2024. This was a repeat order of an earlier order placed in March 2016. The army placed its first order for the Milan-2T in December 2008 for 4,100 ATGMs at a cost of Rs 567 crore. The army introduced the older Milan-2 into service in the late Seventies and it was produced in India by BDL under license since the early Eighties. The Milan-2 had a single warhead while limited capability to defeat modern tanks, while the upgraded Milan-2T had a tandem-warhead better suited to defeating modern tanks of the nineties and the early 2000s. The Milan-2T is produced by BDL under license from MBDA and the tandem-warhead ATGM has a range of 1,850 metres. These missiles can be fired from ground as well as vehicle-based launchers and can be deployed in Anti-Tank Role for both offensive & defensive tasks.


Indigenous ATGMs

After decades of effort, the DRDO now has a growing portfolio of ATGMs ranging from NAG, HELINA, MPATGM, SANT and Laser Guided ATGM for MBT Arjun. However, it appears that as on date no large formal contract has been placed for procurement of any of these ATGMs for the army.

In January, the DRDO announced that it had completed flight tests of the final deliverable configuration of its Man Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile (MPATGM). The indigenously developed anti-tank missile features an integrated thermal sight and is a low weight, fire & forget missile launched from a man-portable launcher. It has a range of 2.5km and a top-attack capability to defeat armoured vehicles. The missile has miniaturised Infra-red Imaging Seeker and advanced avionics for on-board control and guidance.

NAG and HELINA are 3rd generation ATGMs developed for use by the army’s mechanized formations to engage enemy Main Battle Tanks (MBT). Final user trials for the NAG ATGM took place in October 2020. The NAG ATGM has also been integrated onto the NAG Missile Carrier (NAMICA). The NAMICA is a BMP II based system with amphibious capability. In addition to HELINA (army), DRDO is developing Dhruvastra for the air force and joint user trials were announced to be completed by the MoD in February, last year. The missiles were fired from a Dhruv MkIV ‘Rudra’ attack helicopter in test ranges in the desert. The missiles were fired in hover and max forward flight against realistic static and moving targets. The HELINA helicopter launched ATGM has a range of seven km. Interestingly, in the MoD release issued last year, following these trials, these 3rd generation ATGMs are touted as the being ‘one of the most-advanced anti-tank weapons in the world’, despite the emergence of 5th generation ATGMs on the global market.

Another weapon in development is the Stand-off Anti-Tank Missile (SANT), which is a 10km range ATGM developed for use on Indian Air Force (IAF) Mi-35 attack helicopters and features a MMW seeker. With the Mi-35s to soon be phased out, it is unsure as to what the fate of the SANT programme will be. The DRDO is also developing a laser guided Precision Guided Munition (PGM) for the MBT Arjun, which will be launched from its 120 mm rifled gun of Arjun tank to engage and defeat Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) protected armoured targets. The tandem HEAT warhead ATGM can defeat armoured vehicles at ranges from 1.5 to 5 km.


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