The DRDO headquarters in New Delhi
The DRDO headquarters in New Delhi | Commons
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New Delhi: An unseemly war has broken out between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and an Israeli firm over man-portable “tank-killers”, or Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM).

The first salvo was fired by Rafael Advanced Systems Thursday, to which a furious DRDO responded on Twitter.

The reason for this spat is that Rafael had won a Rs 3,200 crore Army tender for 8,356 Spike missiles, 321 launchers and 15 simulators. But in 2017, the order was scrapped after DRDO said it could deliver an indigenous equivalent. The Army, which has been seeking the next generation of ‘fire-and-forget’ ATGMs for over a decade, instead only ordered just 210 Spike missiles with about a dozen launchers, worth Rs 280 crore, from Rafael.

Also read: Why Indian Navy needs the 127 mm guns it is set to acquire for destroyers & frigates

Rafael’s attack

Rafael released a statement, through its public relations agency, announcing the test firing of two newly-acquired Spike LR anti-tank missiles at the Infantry School in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, which was witnessed by Army chief General Bipin Rawat.

In the statement, Rafael also hit out at the DRDO’s ATGM programme, saying “while there seems to have been some progress on the DRDO development programme, it will take a long time for it to reach the user in the field”.

The firm added that the Army needed to rethink its order for third-generation missiles, while its system is fourth-generation.

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“With the confidence in the Spike missile established, the Indian Army may need to revisit their plans for 3rd Gen missiles. Both the DRDO 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,” the firm stated.

DRDO’s response

A furious DRDO took to Twitter to hit back. It tweeted that the DRDO ATGM is a state-of-the-art missile in the advanced stages of development.

DRDO, which conducted three successful trials of the weapon system at the Kurnool range in Andhra Pradesh in September, is confident that its MP-ATGM, with a range of 2.5 kilometres, will be available for “user trials” by 2020.

What is a fourth-generation missile?

Explaining why its ATGM was better, Rafael said the fourth-generation Spike LR has fire and forget capability, as well as the ability to fire, observe and update, providing substantial flexibility to the firer to pinpoint the impact point. It also has the ability to switch to a different target mid-flight, should the firer want to do so.

“The missile has an inbuilt seeker, which gives the firer the flexibility to use any of two modes: Day (CCD) and Night (IIR). 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,” the firm stated.

India is the 33rd country to have the Spike missile as part of its inventory, and Rafael claimed it has a high success rate.

“More than 5,000 Spike missiles have been fired so far worldwide, with the overall hit percentage being more than 95 per cent. The firer also has the option to fire from either low or high trajectory,” it said.

The Army currently operates second-generation Milan-2T (2-km range) and Konkurs (4-km) ATGMs. Produced by Bharat Dynamics under licence from French and Russian companies, these do not have night-fighting capabilities.

(This report has been updated to clarify that the statement was issued by Israeli firm Rafael and not by the joint venture Kalyani-Rafael Advanced Systems, following a statement from the spokesperson of Kalyani Group)

Also read: To reform defence budget, Modi govt considers allotting arms purchase funds for 5 years


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