September 14, 2015: Strategy Page
In early 2015 a Swedish firm (Saab) agreed to design and produce warheads for the new French MMP (Missile Moyenne Portée) medium-range anti-tank missile (ATGM). Warhead deliveries are scheduled for 2017. This is a big deal for Saab, a Swedish company that is often a competitor when it comes to anti-tank weapons. Saab is often competing with the French manufacturer (MBDA) of MMP for ATGM business. The French military did the math and concluded that it was cheaper (and more effective) to buy certain key MMP components from the ATGM manufacturer with the best reputation. This was obviously cheaper and faster that having MBDA conducting their own research in that area.
MMP is a new generation of ATGM similar to the American Javelin or Israeli Spike but developed by a local firm because the French like to manufacture key weapons in France. The MMP will replace the older MILAN family of anti-tank missiles, which were also developed in France. The replacement effort goes back to 2009 when France rejected yet another Milan modernization proposal and in 2010 ordered 260 FGM-148 Javelin missiles from the United States. This purchase was quite a shock for French industry but also an incentive to develop an attractive locally made alternative to Javelin. This led to MMP and the Swedish warhead was seen as an asset, not a liability.
The MMP missile itself weights about 15 kg (33 pound), is 1.3 meters (51 inches) long 140mm in diameter. The weight of the firing unit, including tripod and battery, is another 11 kg (24 pounds). The missile can be fired from portable firing posts, vehicles and army aviation platforms (in the future). MMP features a dual-mode seeker incorporating an uncooled thermal and daylight television channel together with inertial reference unit. An uncooled IR seeker is especially useful, because it can be used very quickly, as opposed to cooled seekers like Javelin’s that require some time to become ready. The warhead is a 140mm caliber tandem shaped charge which according to producer is capable to penetrating any modern tank or two meters of concrete. The missile can engage targets 4,000 meters away. MMP also has a two-way datalink which provide fire-and-forget, man-in-the-loop and non-line-of-sight firing modes with either direct or top-attack (flying over a target and sending penetrator through the thin top armor). MMP can also soft-launch (be safely fired from confined spaces like buildings).
A heavier 8,000 meter version (called MLP) is in the works for helicopters and vehicles. MLP will replace the current HOT missiles.
MMP successfully conducted extensive test firings in early 2015. These included live-firing under various conditions. Some additional tests will take place before the end of 2015. The French Army had no doubt that the MMP effort would succeed and in late 2013 ordered 175 firing posts and 450 missiles, which deliveries beginning in 2017. The entire procurement contract for the French Army is for 2,850 missiles and 400 firing posts. MBDA expects MMP and MLP to be competitive export items.
Meanwhile the older (1970s) technology Milan has remained in production, mainly because it can still get the job done if used against lightly armored vehicles and older tanks. India is a major user (building Milan under license) because their likely opponents, until recently, only had tanks that Milan could handle. But now they have an aggressive China massing forces on the border and building much better protected tanks. The basic Milan is a 1.2 meter long, 125mm diameter, 7.1 kg (16 pound) missile. It has a minimum range of 400 meters and maximum range of 2,000 meters. At max range the missile takes about 13 seconds to reach its target. The missile is guided to the target by the operator via a thin wire. The launcher weighs 21 kg (46 pounds). The missile can penetrate about a meter (39 inches) of armor, making it effective against all but the most modern tanks (M-1, Challenger, Leopard 2). Since the 1970s, over 350,000 Milan missiles and 30,000 launchers have been built worldwide. More modern ATGM are wireless and require much less effort on the part of the operator but they are more expensive. Milans are now being phased out in favor of more modern designs although some will remain in service into the 2020s.