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India's Army Continues to Suffer From Shortage of Anti-Tank Guided Missiles

 
 

The Indian Army and the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), the Indian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) research and development branch, have successfully concluded summer trials of the Nag third-generation anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) at the Indian military’s test range at Pokhran in the Thar Desert region in northwestern India earlier this month.

The summer trials were conducted between July 7 to 18, according to an Indian MoD statement. “As part of the NAG summer user trials, six missions were conducted under the extreme temperature conditions of the Pokhran Ranges,” the statement reads. “All the missiles have met the mission objectives including minimum range, maximum range, in direct attack as well as top attack modes and achieved a direct hit onto the target.”

Winter user trials of the Nag ATGM were reportedly successfully completed earlier this year. “The trials were conducted by the user team from the Army as per the user defined trial directive,” the MoD states. “The missile system has already cleared the winter user trials in [February] 2019. All the ten missiles, which were fired during winter and summer trails, successfully hit the targets.”

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The indigenously designed and developed Nag ATGM has been under development by DRDO for over a decade. The Nag is an all-weather, fire-and-forget, top attack ATGM with an estimated operational range of between three to seven kilometers. All tests of the new ground-launched ATGM to date have been conducted from an armored combat vehicle, the NAMICA, an Indian license-produced variant of the Soviet-era BMP-II armored infantry fighting vehicle.

“The missile is launched from the NAG missile carrier (NAMICA) which is capable of carrying up to six combat missiles,” according to the MoD. “The robust imaging algorithm has made the missile hit the target at four-kilometer distance even in severe summer desert conditions which is unique in its class.” During the earlier testing phase of the ATGM, a number of technical issues arose including with the Nag’s imagining infrared (IIR) seeker head that caused multiple delays as it did not satisfy Indian Army requirements for thermal sensors.

The Indian Army has to date also not placed an order for the Nag ATGM, although, according to the MoD, it intends to procure up to 8,000 new ATGMs of the type beginning with an initial order of 500 missiles. The ATGM is manufactured by state-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited.

Notably, while the recent statement notes that “[c]ompletion of summer user trials will now pave the way for production and induction of the missile system into the Army,” so far the MoD has only issued an acceptance of necessity for the purchase of the new weapon system. The Nag ATGM will still have to clear a number of bureaucratic hurdles before a final sales contract can be inked between the government and India’s sole missile maker.

It is still far from certain that the Nag will fulfill all of the operational requirements laid out by the Army. A contract will also likely be signed following a significant drop in price, as the Army has time and again expressed its preference for cheaper foreign-made ATGMs. The Indian government scrapped a $500 million deal with Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. for 321 Spike ATGM systems and 8,356 missiles in favor of the man-portable variant of the Nag, the man portable anti-tank guided missile (MPATGM).

According to an internal assessment of the Army, the service lacks over 68,000 ATGMs of various types and around 850 launchers.  The majority of the Army’s current inventory consists of second-generation Milan-2T and Konkurs ATGM systems that lack night fighting capabilities. The service is reportedly pushing for a fast-track procurement of 2,500 third-generation shoulder-fired ATGMs and 96 launchers through a government-government contract. In January, the MoD approved the procurement of 5,000 French-made second-generation MILAN.

It remains to be seen whether the Nag in its current configuration can help fill the capability gap.

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