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Anti-tank missile development

Among the first weapons system not driven by the need to match the Chinese was initiated almost as soon as the Defence Research and Development Organisation transited from being the Defence Science Laboratory to its current over-arching responsibilities.

In 1959 a study to assess the feasibility of a first generation anti-tank guided missile was initiated.

It did receive a boost after the Chinese aggression of 1962 with an infusion of Rs 6 lakh in the development program of a subsonic anti-tank missile.

The supreme irony remains that to date India depends for this vital requirement on imports even after a full-fledged third generation fire and forget, top attack missile was ‘successfully’ completed by the DRDO.  

The work was assigned to two Bangalore-based laboratories of the Department of Aeronautics and the Institute of Science.

The first full-scale prototype that was tested in the wind tunnel produced valuable insights into the burn qualities of the sustainer and booster propellants.

Black propulsion grain was developed for the booster and molybdenum was used in the sustainer. Both were packed in separate compartments in an aluminum container.

The molybdenum sustainer was created with a star-shaped hole at its centre to ensure fast and even burn while the sustainer was made in a manner that was described as cigarette burner type for sustained thrust.

New research

Experiments in propulsion technology generated confidence in the design team to incorporate a 106 mm warhead to the ensemble.

The final product was capable of hitting a tank at ranges between 500 meters and 1,500 meters. For a first generation product this was commendable.

The indigenous anti-tank missile was tested 16 times and it hit its target 14 times.

Some more work was required to be done on the sustainer technology but before that was completed the Indian Army changed its qualitative staff requirement for anti-tank missiles in 1969 and India went in for imported missiles instead.

However, it appears that work on the original indigenous ATGB has continued and Bharat Dynamics Ltd which manufactures missiles in India as recently as September 2015 announced that it had successfully tested a second generation ATGM named Amogha-1.

The competence thus acquired moved the planners to incorporate the anti-tank missile in the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program launched in 1982-83 under the leadership of the late President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

Other products of this programme included two surface-to-surface (Prithvi and Agni); two surface-to-air missiles (Akash and Trishul) and an anti-tank missile (Nag).

All but Trishul, a short-range quick-reaction surface-to-air missile have successfully entered operational status with the armed forces.

While the surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles are thriving - the Prithvi in fact has been converted into a long range interceptor.

Indeed, it has become the backbone of India’s attempt to create a credible ballistic missile defence (BMD) and anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system-the Trishul was inadequate for its intended role of a last-ditch defence against aircraft and incoming missiles.

The Nag third generation anti-tank missile which is a unique system in that in its final approach to the target it makes an S manoeuvre (like the hood of the cobra snake) to hit a tank from the top (its most vulnerable point).

In a fire-and-forget missile such a manoeuvre is intended to prevent interception by multi-barrel air defence systems accompanying the enemy tank formation.

However, it appears that the Nag is destined to die in its cradle. Even as the Indian Army raised objections about the Nag carrier the NAMICA (NAg MIssile CArrier) based on a BMP infantry combat vehicle one of which was about ford ability (after years of being in service with the Indian Army) over water obstacles.

DRDO scientists discovered a more potent defect-the onboard thermal sensor was unable to differentiate   between the hot desert sands of Rajasthan in summer and tank armor.

It is said that one can fry an egg on it. Any weapons system dependent on infrared thermal imaging could go haywire because of the ambient heat.

To be able to salvage the Nag project, defence scientists will have to be able to perfect the millimeter wave technology that they have been working on for decades.

The Nag was initially intended to be fitted with three different sensors for failsafe attack on a moving tank.

One was to be a wire guidance spool which never materialized. The other was the infrared thermal imaging which has become overwhelmed by the ambient heat in desert conditions (which is territory which lends itself to tank warfare.

The third was the millimetric wave radar which too has not materialized. Apart from the land attack infantry version of the Nag other variants include the Namica-borne missile and a helicopter launched version called the Helina.

The fact that initial orders were limited to 450 Nag missiles and 13 Namica carriers against a total requirement of over 7000 missiles and 200 Namicas was an indicator of the shape of things to come.

The Indian Army had begun negotiations with foreign missile manufactures, mainly Israel and the US.

It finally selected the Israeli Spike missile which is described as a fourth-generation man-portable fire and forget missile capable of being used in top attack mode with a system of updating of terrain information during flight and target designation by an operator.

After the missile has been assigned a target it rises and strike sharply downwards at the top of the tank in what is known as a “lofted trajectory”.

The attractiveness of the missile lies in its many variants with specific applications.

For example, the 800 meter range is mainly intended for urban in which Israel has conducted campaigns against the Palestinians and Lebanon.

The next is a 2.5 km range ATGM used by its infantry and Special Forces. A third has a range of 4 km and the fourth designated Spike ER can hit targets of up to 8 km.

The icing on the cake is the Spike NLOC (non line of sight) which has a standoff range of 25 km and can be launched from a tripod or a helicopter.

An examination of the relative merits of the Indian Nag and the Israeli Spike reveals that while the concepts in each case are similar-fire and forget, infrared thermal imaging and lofted trajectory-it is in the sensors that the Spike has proved to be superior to the Nag.

The Spike is not a new missile system. Its genesis lies in the lessons learned during the Yom Kippur war of 1973 and the wars with Lebanon.

India needs to learn some hard lessons as well when its prestigious projects are scuttled in an era of Make in India.

Within five month of taking office the NDA government led by Narendra Modi spiked the indigenous Nag ATGM in favour of the Israeli product.

It remains to be seen if from the debris of the first, second and third generation of anti-tank guided missiles the DRDO will be able to present the nation with a 5th generation of ATGM after making due investment in sensor technology appropriate for use in Indian conditions.

Indian experience

Ever since the establishment of DefenceResearch and Development Organisation (DRDO),India has been making efforts to develop anti-tank missiles but has not yet been able to finally induct an Indian developed anti-tank missile.

However, the DRDO has only last January claimed that it has successfully tested the Nag missile, which according to the DRDO officials hit the bull’s eye with modified seeker.

The indigenously built NAG has been described as the third generation anti-tank missile which can hit the target 4 km away. This has been successfully demonstrated during night trial in the deserts of Rajasthan, in the Mahajan range.

According to officials, Thermal Target System for this missile was developed by a Jodhpur laboratory and was used as a target for the missile.

This was in the final user configuration. The trial validated the enhanced 4 kms range capability of the imaging infrared seeker which guides the missile to the target after its launch.

According to the DRDO officials, the multipurpose mission exercises were carried out for improving the system.

Since the modified seeker achieved the required range capability, the scientists claimed that Nag missile was now ready for final user trials.

According to the Director of Defence Research Development Laboratory (DRDL), K Jayraman, the final user trials would be conducted in different weather conditions in summer and winter in 2016.

The Nag missile was equipped with HEAT(High Explosive Anti Tank) warhead and the top attack all weather fire and forget system, through which all modern tanks can be annihilated.

The HEAT developed by Indian scientists is capable of destroying modern tanks with armored protection by neutralizing the explosive reactor armor(ERA) of the Nag.

Nag experience


However, since the Nag has not yet been finally inducted and may take a year or two to start manufacture, the Indian Army decided to acquire the Israeli anti-tank guided missile Spike in October 2014 to fill the gap.

For this category of missile the Indian government also considered the offer from the US Javelin missiles, for which the US administration had strongly lobbied.

The 8,356 Spike Anti Tank Guided missile will be accompanied by 321 launchers and will cost Rs 3,200 crores.

The Spike missile would also be manufactured in India under transfer of technology to defence undertaking Bharat Dynamics Limited for large scale manufacture.

According to officials, the missiles are now being brought to India in various pieces and assembled.

The Indian government decided to acquire the Spike missile after the trial and evaluation were completed. The Indian Army needs over 40,000 Spikes to equip the Army’s 382 infantry battalions and 44 mechanised infantry units.

The Spike is a man portable missile that locks on to the target before shooting. The Israeli missile is reported to have outclassed the Javelin system, which has been manufactured by the Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon company.

However, the missile is sold to the world armies through the government and Foreign Military Sales route.

Though India has decided to acquire the Spike anti tank missiles, the DRDO is simultaneously working on developing the man portable anti-tank missile which can be fired from shoulders.

This was disclosed by the then DRDO chief AvinashChanderin August, 2014. He had then claimed that DRDO is planning to launch this missile in next four years that is by 2018.

Meanwhile, the DRDO is also working on the Amogha-1, the indigenously developed second generation Anti tank Guided Missile with a range of 2.8 km.

This has been successfully test fired at Babina Army Range in Madhya Pradesh. According to the BDL, the Amogha-1 is the first ever indigenously developed effort in respect of this kind of missiles.

Meanwhile, the Indian Army is eagerly waiting for the Made In India anti-tank missile Nag which will give a fillip to the  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s program to promote Make In India in defence sector.