On Wednesday, the Indian Army successfully test-fired the Israeli Spike LR anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), which can home in on, and destroy, enemy tanks at ranges up to 4 km.
On Thursday, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which builds the Spike, boldly stated: “With confidence in the Spike missile established, the Indian Army may need to revisit their plans” to develop an Indian anti-tank missile.
This is an unusually bold statement, since foreign vendors usually tread softly around New Delhi’s sensibilities and avoid giving procurement advice.
In January 2018, India had cancelled a $500-million purchase of Spike LR missiles just two weeks before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to ink the deal on a visit to New Delhi. Army chief General Bipin Rawat said at that time that the purchase was cancelled because the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was going to develop and supply an indigenous ATGM.
Since the DRDO missile would be ready only by 2022, “the Indian Army procured a limited quantity of Spike LR missiles, so as to meet the urgent operational requirement”, said Rafael in a press release on Thursday.
Two of these ATGMs were fired at Mhow on Wednesday. Witnessed by top infantry generals, including Rawat, both struck their targets.
Encouraged by that success, Rafael now claims the DRDO’s missile will be only a ‘third-generation’ ATGM, while the Spike LR is a fourth-generation missile.
“Both the DRDO’s ATGM programme, as well as the invitation to Indian industry to develop a 3rd Gen missile will need a rethink, as having a 4th Gen missile will put the plan for development of a 3rd Gen missile questionable,” stated Rafael’s unusually forthright statement.
The Israeli firm explained why its ATGM was better than what the DRDO is developing. “Spike LR is a 4th Gen missile, which (has) fire and forget capability (that does not require the firer to keep the enemy tank in his cross hairs until impact). The missile also has the ability to… switch to a different target mid-flight, should he want to do so.”
Rafael argued that the Spike LR’s inbuilt seeker allows the firer to engage tanks by both day and night. “The dual seeker adds to the missile’s reliability, already established at more than 90 per cent during the field evaluation by the Indian Army in 2011. As of date, more than 5000 Spike missiles have been fired so far worldwide, with the overall hit percentage being more than 95 per cent”, claimed Rafael.
India is the 33rd country to have the Spike missile as part of its inventory.
For decades now, the army’s infantry (foot-soldiers) units have been equipped with 2nd Gen missiles like the French MILAN, which had a range of under 2.5 km.
In 2011, the defence ministry floated a tender for 321 ATGM launchers and 8,356 missiles worth an estimated $500 million (~3,600 crore).
Rafael was required to discharge offsets worth 30 per cent of that value and to transfer technology to Bharat Dynamics for building 30,000 more Spike missiles in India.
Over the preceding two years, Rafael has strengthened its case by putting in place the tools to manufacture the Spike LR in India, in a joint venture (JV) with the Kalyani Group in Hyderabad. “The JV is capable of manufacturing Spike missiles in India, and will also look at export opportunities from India”, stated Rafael on Thursday.
By 2016, Spike LR had cleared user trials and the defence ministry had completed price negotiations. At the last minute, however, the government decided in favour of indigenous manufacture.
Now, with the DRDO programme under way and reportedly making good progress, Rafael has moved boldly to make its case for the Spike.