Army inducts Israeli 'tank killers’ till DRDO develops indigenous ones
NEW DELHI: Indian infantry soldiers now finally have a new weapon to destroy advancing enemy tanks on the western front with Pakistan. The Army has begun to induct a limited number of Israeli Spike anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) to meet immediate operational requirements till the indigenous man-portable “tank killers” being developed by DRDO are ready for induction.
Sources on Thursday said the “first lot” of the 210 Spike missiles, with a dozen launchers, “arrived in India about 10 days ago” as part of the “Army vice chief’s emergency procurement powers” exercised by the force amidst the ongoing heightened tensions with Pakistan.
The Army moved to buy the initial amount of the fire-and-forget Spike ATGMs, which have a strike range of up to 4-km, for around Rs 280 crore after the Jaish-e-Muhammed training facility at Balakot in Pakistan was bombed by Indian Mirage-2000 fighters on February 26.
“The order will be repeated if the man-portable ATGM being developed by DRDO is not ready by next year. We don’t want to be slowed down any longer in plugging our critical operational deficiencies by DRDO,” said an Army source.
DRDO, however, is quite confident about offering its MP-ATGM for “user trials” in 2020 after having conducted three successful trials of the weapon system at the Kurnool range in Andhra Pradesh in early last month.
“The third-generation MP-ATGM, which has state-of-the-art infrared imaging seekers along with advanced avionics, hit the targets mimicking operational tanks in top-attack mode to destroy them with precision at 2.5 km range,” said a DRDO official.
Whether it’s indigenous or Israeli man-portable “tank killers”, the fact remains the 13-lakh strong Army has an alarming over 50% shortage in its “authorised holding” of different kinds of shoulder, vehicle and helicopter-launched ATGMs, which are crucial to halt advancing enemy tanks in the plains as well as “bunker-bursting” across the volatile line of control with Pakistan.
The Army’s existing second-generation Milan-2T (2-km range) and Konkurs (4-km) ATGMs, produced by defence PSU Bharat Dynamics under licence from French and Russian companies, do not have night-fighting capabilities.
The Army for well over a decade has been clamouring to upgrade from these wire-guided ATGMs to third and fourth-generation ones that are top-attack, fire-and-forget and night-capable. In late 2017, India had scrapped a proposed Rs 3,200 crore deal for 8,356 Spike missiles, 321 launchers and 15 simulators that had been first approved by the Defence Acquisitions Council in June 2009.
This was primarily because the DRDO said it could deliver a more technologically advanced MP-ATGM in the next two-three years, as was then reported by TOI. The Army is now keeping its fingers crossed, keen as it is on equipping all its over 380 infantry battalions and 44 mechanised infantry units with third and fourth-generation ATGMs in the long run.