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The Indian DRDO Has A Top Attack Missile In The Works

September 13, 2019


Yesterday marked the completion of the latest firing tests for the Defense Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) man portable anti-tank guided missile. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh delivered his congratulations on social media and revealed the MPATGM struck an inert target resembling a tank. The MPATGM is scheduled for testing throughout the year before its next development phase is announced. Its success is crucial for the Indian Army since the branch suffers from a shortage of anti-armor weapons.

The MPATGM launched on September 11 was tested atop a sandy knoll at the Kurnool range in Andhra Pradesh. The photos shared by the defense ministry revealed a long cylindrical missile with a quartet of fins around its mid-section. Details about the MPATGM that were shared during the last DEFEXPO arms show indicated the complete system shared many similarities with Raytheon’s FGM-148 Javelin, which is the most popular top attack missile after the Rafael Spike-MR. The Javelin’s reputation is so esteemed, in fact, it’s used as a signaler for enhancing relations with US allies; only foreign armies with strong commitments to the US are allowed to acquire Javelin ATGMs.*

With a maximum range of just 2.5 kilometers, the MPATGM travels shorter distances than older wire and laser-guided missiles but compensates with its top attack launch trajectory. The advantages of a top attack missile is its fire-and-forget launch process where the operator doesn’t need to paint the target once the missile is in flight. When it reaches mid-air the missile descends at a steep angle and strikes the weakest protective layer for any tank, which is the turret roof. But with the proliferation of top attack ATGMs among NATO and allied armies, China and Russia have updated their battle tanks with reactive armor encasing the turrets as seen on the T-72B3 and T-90M Proryv. Another use for top attack missiles is in an anti-bunker role. If Indian jawans are up against militants in Kashmir, for example, a top attack missile is ideal for neutralizing a static enemy position such as a machine gun nest.

Beyond the actual missile, there’s little to go by regarding the MPATGMs external appearance. This should require an aluminum and carbon fiber launch tube to save on weight and a separate command launch unit (CLU) combining a laser designator with a digital all-weather sight. A recurring issue with the Javelin, for example, is the entire cumbersome weapon system must be carried by the operator, who may choose to sit on the ground or lean on a hard surface before it’s fired. Other top attack or flyover ATGMs have tripods for the launcher: Israel’s Spike-MR, Sweden’s BILL/BILL 2, and the French MMP all deploy with folding tripods to stabilize the weapon.

With the reported dimensions of the missile set at 120 millimeters in diameter and 51 inches long, the MPATGM may only be man-portable in the sense that its parts are carried by a single person before assembly. Factors such as its maximum weight and ease of use demands that a collapsible tripod forms part of the deployed system. The MPATGM isn’t to be confused with the DRDO’s NAG, which is a larger non-line-of-sight or NLOS missile tailored for either ground or air-launched delivery.

Official sources haven’t confirmed if the MPATGM, which could be renamed in the near future, enters service with the Indian Army by the 2020s. The branch does have a critical shortage of anti-armor weapons compared to other regional militaries. Besides the Carl Gustaf M2/M3 84mm recoilless rifle the army’s stocks of Konkurs and Milan ATGMs are deemed inadequate against the latest tanks fielded by the Chinese and Pakistani armies–the Type 96/96A, the Type 99/99A, the Type 85, the T-80U, the Al-Zarrar, and the Al-Khalid. Unfortunately, the DRDO’s impressive track record of developing weapon systems from scratch doesn’t always translate to widespread adoption. The armed forces, along with the defense ministry, remain devoted to acquiring foreign equipment even at steep cost.

* Current foreign operators of the Javelin are Australia, Bahrain, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Georgia, Indonesia, Ireland, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the UAE, the UK, Ukraine.

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