The Indian government has scrapped a deal to import Israeli-made Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Spike medium-range (MR) anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and launchers in favor of the indigenously designed and developed man-portable anti-tank guided missile (MPATGM), according to local media reports.
“Government officials associated with the approval of the deal said Israel has been informed about the contract being abandoned in favor of DRDO [India’s Defense Research and Development Organization], which claimed that it was developing a similar missile at a lower price in partnership with VEM Technologies Ltd.,” The Indian Express reported on June 24.
DRDO has claimed that MPATGM would be ready for serial-production by 2021 with the second stage of testing of the new weapon system reportedly concluded. DRDO has successfully test fired the MPATGM at the Ahmednagar test range in the western Indian state of Maharashtra in September 2018.
The MPATGM, a third-generation ATGM with an engagement range of about 2.5 kilometers, has been under development by DRDO in partnership with Indian defense contractor VEM Technologies Ltd. since 2015. Notably, while DRDO has promised the Indian Army to hand over the first MPATGM prototype by the end of 2018 for user trials, no announcement of a delivery has been publicly made to date.
The Indian Army leadership has time and again stated that it does not think that the MPATGM will meet the service’s operational requirements and voiced concerns about likely delays in the induction of the new weapon system. However, procuring the MPATGM would fulfill the new Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) strategic partnership (SP) guidelines that aim to facilitate the manufacturing of military hardware locally as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative.
In December 2017, the Indian government scrapped a $500 million deal with Rafael for 321 Spike ATGM launchers and 8,356 missiles only to reauthorize it in January 2018 during a state visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India. India’s MoD had originally selected the Spike ATGM over the U.S.-made FGM-148 Javelin ATGM system in October 2014.
“The Spike ATGM is a third-generation fire-and-forget weapon system with a tandem-charge HEAT warhead, with the long-range variant of the missile capable of hitting targets at a distance of up to 4 kilometers,” I wrote in February 2019. “The Spike ATGM can be fired in ‘top attack’ mode in lofted trajectory hitting its target from above.”
However, despite the Indian government’s apparent abandonment of plans to procure a large number of Spike ATGMs, a small batch of weapons will reportedly still be inducted into service with the country’s ground forces. The Indian Army has approved the import of 240 Spike ATGMs and 12 launchers as part of an “emergency purchase” to meet immediate operational requirements in April.
“Following the February 2019 military standoff between India and Pakistan following the Balakot airstrikes, the Indian Army’s vice chief of staff has been given authority to procure goods and materiel worth up to $72 million without prior approval from the Indian [MoDs] under an emergency purchase provision,” I explained elsewhere.