Israel has upstaged the US in the ongoing race to bag the huge deal to supply third-generation anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) to the Indian Army, in a project which could well be worth $1 billion eventually. Defence ministry sources said the plan to go in for the American FGM-148 Javelin ATGMs has “virtually been shelved” because of Washington’s reluctance to provide full military knowhow – licensed “transfer of technology (ToT)” – to allow India to indigenously manufacture the “tank killers” in large numbers after an initial off-the-shelf purchase.
Instead, the Army has already completed extensive trials of the Israeli ‘Spike’ ATGM, which like Javelin is also a shoulder-launched and fire-and-forget missile, under varied conditions in plains, deserts and mountains. “The staff evaluation is now in progress as the next step in the procurement process,” said a source. The Javelin imbroglio has once again rekindled long-held fears in the Indian defence establishment about the US not being a reliable long-term supplier of cutting-edge military technology. India also detests American conditions on “intrusive end-user inspections” of weapons sold to its armed forces. The US has notched up military sales worth over $8 billion to India in the last few years, including mega deals for C-130J ‘Super Hercules’, C-17 Globemaster-III and P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, but they did not involve licensed production in India.
The AGTM project, in contrast, involves ToT since the 1.13-million Army wants to equip all its 356 infantry battalions with the man-portable missiles as an effective counter to Pakistani and Chinese main battle tanks. A bulk of the estimated 2,000 launchers and 24,000 missiles required for this are planned for production by defence PSU Bharat Dynamics (BDL) after getting requisite ToT from the selected foreign vendor. With General Bikram Singh identifying infantry modernization as a major thrust area, the Army wants to complete the induction of these 2.5-km range advanced ATGMs by the end of the 12th Plan (2017).
At present, infantry units are 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. Overall, the Army has an “authorized holding” for over 81,000 different kinds of ATGMs, which are critical to stem enemy armoured attacks, but does not have even half of that number in its inventory. 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). If Israel, the second-largest defence supplier to India after Russia, does indeed stitch up the ATGM project, it will be the third major missile programme between the two countries. They are already collaborating in two surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, under which deliveries are slated to begin soon.
While the DRDO-Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) project for long-range-SAM to arm Indian warships is worth Rs 2,606 crore, the medium-range-SAM one for IAF is worth Rs 10,076 crore. From Heron and Searcher UAVs, Harpy and Harop “killer” drones to Barak anti-missile defence systems and Green Pine radars, Python and Derby air-to-air missiles, Israel notches up military sales to India roughly worth $1 billion every year.