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The DRDO Is Still Tinkering With Its Top Attack Missile

January 18, 2022

This month India’s well-regarded Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) published footage of another test for the “multi-purpose ATGM” or MPATGM and claimed the munition struck its target with “pinpoint accuracy.” This is the latest publicity boost for the weapon system and a welcome reminder the state-owned DRDO stands shoulder-to-shoulder among the world’s leading “defense” enterprises. However, the MPATGM itself won’t be adopted soon enough by its intended users–the Indian army. In fact, as Beijing and New Delhi square off in a dangerous territorial dispute the need for something like the MPATGM is urgent should open warfare break out.

While it appears the MPATGM functions as intended it’s far from a complete system. The footage and imagery shared by the DRDO for public awareness shows a rudimentary setup that looks impressive but is only fit for carefully arranged tests. If the MPATGM is ever cleared for mass-production it needs to have a viable shelf life for storage purposes but have separable parts that withstand the rigors of transport and usage in harsh climates. It’s essential for the MPATGM to have a ruggedized command launch unit (CLU) incorporating its optics with a control panel and the proper ergonomics for the operator to carry the system. Based on what the DRDO has shown so far, the CLU for the MPATGM is unready.

For all its promise and the official noise over “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (Make in India) the MPATGM suffers the same disregard as other successful DRDO and Indian-made military products. Even when its development shows strong progress it’s ignored by the same institutions that shall benefit from it the most; the country’s armed forces. To date, the army maintains a huge selection of anti-tank missiles that includes locally made variants of the French Milan 2 and the Soviet Konkurs. Recent additions are the Russian Kornet and the Israeli Spike LR/LR2. The DRDO had an early success with a “gun launched” anti-tank missile called SAMHO designed for the main armament of the Arjun battle tank. It was also possible to repurpose the SAMHO as a man-portable ATGM for infantry. The SAMHO never flourished and the same fate can befall the MPATGM.

The DRDO’s minor success with the MPATGM falls well within regional trends in anti-tank missile development. Asian countries in particular are turning away from acquiring these weapon systems to embrace their homegrown efforts. China’s state-owned manufacturers are rather egregious for the volume of their production to meet the military’s and then the export market’s demand. But the results are beyond dispute and the DRDO’s MPATGM has an impressive rival in the Norinco HJ-12 that the PLAAF airborne are now using. (Other Chinese companies make similar top attack ATGMs but for sale abroad.) In South Korea the technology company LIG Nex1 has the Raybolt, which resembles the Raytheon FGM-148 Javelin, and it has enjoyed limited success as an export.

Elsewhere, Iran’s military-industrial sector took a strange turn when it copied the Israeli Spike-MR and branded it the “Almas.” Refusing to be left behind, Turkey has fostered Roketsan’s ATGM programs for the UMTAS multi-role missile, the OMTAS medium-range ATGM, and the Karaok portable short-range ATGM. If comparisons need to be made the DRDO’s MPATGM is closer to the OMTAS when assembled but the MPATGM is armed with a smaller missile. An exciting likelihood for the MPATGM, should it ever find success with the army, is its broad adoption on vehicles and even drones as a precision weapon of choice.

Aside from the MPATGM another DRDO surface-to-surface missile is the NAG, which was spun off to the air-launched HELINA and then the DhruvAstra.

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