India marked Army Day on Monday (January 15) with a grand parade in Lucknow, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauding the unwavering commitment and sacrifices of Army personnel. The day also gives us a peak in India’s defence capabilities as it faces the challenges of modern warfare.
Recently, Indian ground forces carried out an extensive demonstration of their anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) capabilities at Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang for the first time.
During the drill in high-altitude terrain, the soldiers took positions atop mountain ridges to monitor the movements of the “enemy”. As the visibility fell due to dense fog, a trooper was seen using his field radio to coordinate an engagement, a procedure known as “radio-telephony procedure”.
After receiving a nod from the commander, the tracker alerted the personnel handling the missile. The launcher was quickly configured with the projectile loaded in it, and the target was destroyed within seconds.
The exercise comes on the back of Chinese adventurism in the Himalayas, which sent ripples down the corridors of power in Beijing. As the border logjam still continues, with lakhs of soldiers deployed on both sides of the LAC in an ‘eye-ball-to-eye ball’ configuration, the Indian Army’s ATGM capabilities act as a significant deterrence against any Chinese incursion into the Chicken’s Neck region.
Evolution of ATGMs
Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, high-velocity heavy calibre projectiles, explosive rounds and landmines have been the most favoured weapons of armies across the world.
While it is easy to engage a stationary human target with a sniper rifle from long distances, it is tremendously difficult to engage high-speed mobile targets like battle tanks and armoured vehicles with LRDLOS (Long Range Direct Line of Sight) shooting.
Recently, China has developed a large ground force based on armoured infantry and mechanised artillery columns and Pakistan is also in the process of inducting a large number of tanks and infantry fighting vehicles in its fleet.
Moreover, the presence of numerous hardened Pakistani bunkers and terror launch pads across the Line of Control (LoC) in northern Kashmir and frequent ceasefire violations by Pakistani forces from strategically located hilltop positions has necessitated the need for a large arsenal of guided-weapons.
These emerging threats emanating from the tactical-level battlefield need to be tackled with minimum collateral damage to the vulnerable civilian populations.
Moreover, the importance of anti-tank guided missiles has also been proved in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. According to The Kyiv Independent news portal, more than 6,000 Russian tanks and more than 11,000 armoured personnel carriers have fallen prey to Ukrainian anti-tank weapons since the invasion began in February 2022.
Many of these heavy armoured platforms, which also include the T-90 MBT, have been destroyed by the American-made FGM-148 Javelin and the British-made NLAW (Next-Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon) systems supplied to Ukraine.
The following is a run-down of ATGM systems possessed by the Indian Army:
SACLOS weapon systems
The MILAN 2T ATGM is a French-made anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) for light anti-armour warfare. It is a semi-automatic command-to-line-of-sight (SACLOS) weapon system that can be equipped with MIRA (Milan InfraRot Adapter) and MILIS (Milan Lightweight Infrared System) based thermal sights.
The projectile can destroy mobile targets up to a range of two km. The Army uses the 2T version of the second-generation missile that carries a single main-shaped charge, with a smaller shaped charge warhead at the end of the standoff probe to defeat reactive armour. Over 30,000 such ATGMs have been licenced and manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) and 4,100 more are being .
Another ATGM which is widely used by the Indian Army is the 9M133 Kornet system. The weapon, which is also known as the AT-14 Spriggan in western strategic circles, is a modern Russian-made ATGM and is used against heavy armour.
The projectile, which has a mass of around 27 kg, can also carry thermobaric warheads for obliterating soft targets up to a range of 5.5 km. It is a laser-beam-guided SACLOS weapon system and has fire-and-forget capability.
The Kornet anti-tank missile system has been fitted with the ‘top attack’ capability. In addition to an infantry portable version, the 9K133 system has been integrated into a variety of other vehicles and weapons systems as either an upgrade package or a new weapon system. The 9K133 has been fitted into a BMP-2 to form the 9P163M-1 tank destroyer and is similar in function to the Russian Khrizantema missile system.
The Indian Army has 3000 9M133 Kornet missiles along with 250 launchers in service as of January 2024.
Another system used by the Indian Army is the 9K114 Shturm. It is a Russian-made SACLOS radio-guided anti-tank guided missile which is also known as ‘AT-6 Spiral’ in Western strategic circles. The projectile has a launch weight of 31.4 kg and can destroy moving targets up to a range of 5 km. The 9M115M version of the weapon carries a HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead whereas the 9M114F version is capable of carrying a thermobaric warhead. At present, the Indian Army has around 800 such systems.
The Army also possesses a large stockpile of 9M113 Konkurs weapon systems. It is popularly known as ‘AT-5 Spandrel’ in NATO circles and is a Russian-made SACLOS wire-guided anti-tank missile.
Having a range of up to four km and a launch mass of around 14.6 kg, the projectile is capable of penetrating rolled homogenous armour (RHA) shields. The missile is installed onboard the Indian Army’s BMP-2 ‘Sarath’ amphibious infantry fighting vehicles.
It can also be fired from 9K111 Fagot launchers that are currently in service with the Indian Army. At present, 15,140 Konkurs weapon systems are operational with the Indian Army.
The 9M119 Svir/ 9M119 Refleks (also known as Invar) is a Russian-made laser-guided anti-tank missile. The rocket has a launch mass of around 17.2 kg and is capable of carrying tandem-charge (dual-charge) warheads and can destroy targets up to a range of five km. The missile can be launched from the 2A46 (D-81 TM) smoothbore guns of the Army’s T-90 battle tanks. The Invar enables the tank to hit targets at twice the range of the 125 mm shells.
The tandem warhead can penetrate up to 1600 mm of armour. The 9M119M version of Invar was put into service in 1992, and the 9M119M1 version (Invar-M) in the second half of the 1990s.
There are also high explosive versions named 9M119F and 9M119F1 which are intended to defeat enemy personnel. Bharat Dynamics Limited produces these advanced missiles in India under technical collaboration with Rosoboronexport of Russia. 25,000 such missiles have been acquired and deployed by the Indian Army.
Another laser-guided weapon used by the Indian Army is the 9M120 Ataka. It is a Russian-made laser-guided anti-tank missile having a range of up to 6 km. The SACLOS weapon also uses radio command guidance as per situational needs. It is resistant to electronic countermeasures and has a massive hit accuracy. The warhead has tremendous penetration power and is very effective against explosive reactive armour.
In June 2019, the Indian Air Force signed a deal with Russia to acquire an undisclosed number of Ataka ATGMs for arming its fleet of Mi-35 ‘Hind’ helicopter gunships. The deliveries started by the end of 2019 and up to 20 IAF Mi-35 choppers have been armed with the precision-strike weapon system.
Spike is an Israeli-made fourth-generation tandem-charged optical-fibre wire-guided anti-tank missile. Following the February 2019 border skirmishes with Pakistan, the Indian Army ordered 240 Spike-MR missiles of medium-range variant along with 12 launchers. Every missile round weighs around 14 kg and can engage targets up to a range of 2.5 km. The projectiles are capable of tandem-charge HEAT warheads and use a piezoelectric trigger as the detonation mechanism.
It is a fire-and-forget weapon with a lock-on before launch (LOAL) and automatic self-guidance capabilities. The missile is equipped with an infrared seeker. The projectile is connected by a fibre-optical wire that is spooled out between the launch position and the missile.
With this, the operator can obtain a target if it is not in the line of sight of the operator during launch, switch targets in flight and even compensate for the movement of the target if the missile is not tracking the target for some reason.
Hence, the missile can be fired speculatively towards a target of opportunity, or to provide observation on the other side of an obstacle.
Nag is an indigenously developed third-generation anti-tank guided missile developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). It uses infrared homing and millimetric wave active-radar homing technologies for zeroing on to the target. Nag has three versions – a vehicle mounted version (based on Namica launcher), a heliborne version (HeliNa) and a man-portable version (MP-ATGM).
NAMICA (Nag Missile Carrier) is a tank destroyer built for the Army. It is equipped with a thermal imager for target acquisition. The launch platform is a modified BMP-2 ‘Sarath’ infantry combat vehicle. The carrier weighs 14,500 kg and is capable of moving at speeds of 7 km/hour in water. The carriers are capable of carrying 12 Nag missiles with 8 in ready-to-fire mode. The vehicle mounted version of Nag missile system weighs around 14 kg, carries a tandem warhead and can engage targets up to four4 km.
The HeliNa, (Helicopter-launched Nag) missile has a range of up to 8 km. It can be launched from twin-tube stub wing-mounted launchers on board the armed HAL Dhruv and HAL Light Combat Helicopters produced by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). The helicopter-mounted version is structurally different from the vehicle-mounted version of Nag.
The HeliNa-makes use of an IIR seeker for target engagement, like the Namica-mounted version of Nag.
Another indigenous project is the MP-ATGM. It is a third-generation anti-tank guided missile. It has a length of about 1,300 mm and a diameter of about 120 mm with a weight of 14.5 kg. Having a range of around 2.5 km, the MP-ATGM is equipped with an advanced Image Infrared radar (IIR) seeker with integrated avionics. The advanced weapon system underwent two consecutive successful tests in March 2019.
The Amogha-1 is another second-generation Indian anti-tank guided missile having a range of up to 2.8 km. It is currently being developed by BDL at its Hyderabad facility.
The weapon’s guidance is conducted by centroid tracking and terminal homing. It moves near the target in a parabolic path and does not follow a completely parabolic path like conventional projectiles.
It can bend at steep angles and attack the target. Amogha will be configured to be used onboard the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH-Dhruva) and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH-Rudra) being manufactured by HAL.
The land version, air-launched version and man-portable versions of Amogha will soon be operationalised. The Indian armed forces have been eagerly waiting for the induction of these missiles.
European giant MBDA has recently tied up with Larsen and Toubro to jointly manufacture a fifth-generation anti-tank guided missile for the Indian armed forces. The joint venture is offering opportunities under the ‘Buy (Indian-IDDM)’, ‘Buy (Indian)’, ‘Buy & Make (Indian)’, and ‘Make’ categories of defence procurement.
The new system’s prototype was showcased at DefExpo in Chennai as ATGM-5. There are plans to produce it in India with full transfer of technology. The foreign vendor is also ready to support the Indian development of an upgraded ATGM-5 with a much longer range of 10 km.
It will be configured to be fired from ground-based as well as aerial platforms.