April 21, 2013: Strategy Page
After several years of testing and negotiation the Indian Army had recently decided on a supplier for new anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) for its 356 infantry battalions. The deal was worth nearly a billion dollars and was about to be awarded to an Israeli firm (for its Spike ATGM) when the entire process was cancelled over fears that corruption may have been involved. No one was accused of taking a bribe, but so much of that has occurred in India that the politicians overruled the generals and ordered them to run the search again and come up with at least two finalists. This will not guarantee there will be no bribery, but the politicians are under a lot of pressure to curb corruption and this move at least makes it look like someone is making an effort
The Indian army had originally wanted to buy the U.S. Javelin ATGM and the Americans were willing to allow production to take place in India. That deal fell apart because Indian procurement officials were unwilling to guarantee that U.S. technology would not be stolen. Israel pitched its similar Spike missile and did not consider potential technology theft to be a deal breaker.
The army was not happy with this last minute cancellation as they need a replacement for the French Milan ATGMs. India has been building Milans for over three decades. There is no suitable local candidate, despite over two decades of effort trying to develop an effective ATGM to replace Milan. While the Milan design has been updated several times since it first appeared in 1972, there are several other more recent designs that are more effective.
The most effective of these is the Javelin. Introduced in 2002, it weighs 22.3 kg (49 pounds, with disposable launch tube and battery/seeker coolant unit) and is fired from a 6.4 kg (14 pound) CLU (command launch unit). The CLU contains a 4x day sight and a 9x heat sensing night sight. The missile has a tandem (two warheads, to blast through reactive armor) that can hit a target straight on or from the top. This latter capability enables the Javelin to use its 8.2 kg (18 pound) warhead to destroy any existing tank (including the U.S. M1). Maximum range is 2,500 meters. Best of all, the seeker on the missile is "fire and forget." That is, once the operator gets the target in the CLU crosshairs and fires the missile the computer and seeker in the missile warhead memorizes the target and homes in on it. The infantry love this because it allows them to take cover once the missile is fired.
Meanwhile some 30,000 Milans have already been produced in India, under license from European firm MBDA. They have also produced nearly 3,000 launchers. India believes that against Pakistan (the most likely enemy that is likely to use a lot of armored vehicles) Milan still gets the job done. But more modern ATGMs get the job done better and at the loss of fewer Indian infantrymen. This is a popular attitude and the army is not happy about being ordered to start the search for a Milan replacement all over again.
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 of armor, making it effective against all but the most modern tanks (M-1, Challenger, Leopard II). That means Milan will still destroy all the tanks Pakistan has aimed at India.
The Indians pay about $30,000 per Milan missile and have had good success with them in combat. The Javelins cost more than twice as much but are much more effective. 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.
The Israeli missile closest to the Javelin is the Spike MR. This missile, in a container, weighs 14 kg (30.8 pounds) while the CLU (with thermal sight and battery) weighs 12.8 kg (28.3 pounds). Like Javelin, Spike MR has a range of 2,500 meters and is "fire and forget." France recently went looking for a MILAN replacement and the two finalists were Javelin and Spike MR. Javelin won.
Since ATGMs first saw action three decades ago, operators quickly discovered that in the time it took (up to 15 seconds) for the missile to reach its target, enemy troops would often shower them with machine-gun fire, and the most recent ATGM designs seek to deal with that. Another Javelin feature is "soft launch", where the missile is popped out of the launch tube by a small explosive charge, small enough to allow the Javelin to be fired from inside a building. Once the missile is about eight meters out the main rocket motor ignites. The minimum range is, however, 75 meters. It takes about 20 seconds to reload a CLU after a missile has been fired, while Spike MR needs only 15 seconds. Indian troops got a chance to fire Javelins three years ago and were very impressed. Not just because of its ease of use and accuracy but because the missile is combat proven and is known to be very effective at non-vehicle targets. The CLU also performs well as a night vision device, which is how many American troops use it in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Spike was tested as well and was considered a satisfactory alternative to the Javelin. India already has a lot of Israeli military gear and Indian users are pleased with it.