NEW DELHI: Israel seems all set to bag yet another mega defence deal to equip all the 356 infantry battalions of the Indian Army with third-generation anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). While Russia is far ahead in the lead, Israel is trying to stave off a strong challenge from the US to remain the second largest arms supplier to India.
The Rs 15,000-crore project will involve an initial direct acquisition of the man-portable “tank killers”, with a strike range of 2.5-km, followed by transfer of technology (ToT) to defence PSU, Bharat Dynamics, for large-scale indigenous manufacture.
The Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC), led by A K Antony, took up the procurement of the fire-and-forget Israeli “Spike” ATGMs for clearance on April 2. But the case was kept “pending” after being referred for “a technology scan” since it was “a single vendor situation” without any competition, said sources.
The DAC can approve acquisition of a state-of-the-art weapon system, aimed to gain a qualitative edge over adversaries, in a single-vendor situation only after “a technology scan” is conducted by HQ IDS (integrated defence staff) in consultation with DRDO. “The scan basically certifies it’s not possible to get the weapon system from anywhere else. The DAC will consider the case after the scan,” said a source.
The 1.13-million Army is pushing the “critical” project since it has a huge shortfall of 44,000 ATGMs of different types, half its authorised inventory at present. Moreover, both Pakistan and China â€” the latter with third-generation ATGMs â€” have zoomed ahead in this capability of stemming enemy armoured attacks.
The “buy global” project for the shoulder-fired ATGMs had begun â€” after DRDO failed to deliver an indigenous system â€” with the Israeli Spike being pitted against the American FGM-148 Javelin missiles. But the US could not assure India of providing full ToT to allow indigenous production. Consequently, only the Spike ATGMs underwent extensive field trials conducted by the Army.
The force is keen to begin inducting the new ATGMs soon to ensure each infantry battalion deployed in the plains has eight ATGM launchers (each with 12 missiles), and those in the mountains have at least two, by the end of the 12th Plan (2017). “Even mechanised infantry battalions will get them later,” said the source.
At present, the Army is making do with second-generation Milan (2-km range) and Konkurs (4-km) ATGMs, produced by BDL under licence from French and Russian companies, which are wire-guided and do not have fire-and-forget capabilities.
A part of the deficiency will be met by the induction of the long-delayed indigenous third-generation Nag ATGMs, which are vehicle and helicopter-mounted, with a 4-km strike range. The Army has already placed an initial order for 443 Nag missiles and 13 Namicas (Nag missile tracked carriers).