India Army test of Israel Spike missiles triggers Rafael-DRDO wordy battle

File Photo: A Spike missile being tested.

New Delhi: The Indian Army has successfully fired two newly acquired Spike LR anti-tank missiles, people familiar with the matter said on Nov. 28, 2019. Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat, along with other infantry leadership, witnessed the user trial on Nov. 27, 2019 at Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, where they had gathered for the annual Infantry Commanders’ Conference.

Editor’s Note: This report has been updated on Nov. 29, 2019 with DRDO’s remarks on its Anti-Tank Guided Missile development in the afternoon and a late night reaction from Rafael following the DRDO remarks. For the DRDO and Rafael reactions, and an Editorial response, get to the end of the report.

For the last nearly three decades, the Indian Army has been using second generation anti-tank missiles from the French and the Russian stables. The need to replace the inventory with third generation missiles was recognised nearly 10 years back.

Consequently, in 2011, a tender (Request for Proposals in government parlance) was floated for more than 8,000 missiles with Transfer of Technology to Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL).

The Spike missile was the only one to qualify after going through the complex labyrinth of the Indian procurement process, and the Indian Ministry of Defence even completed the contract negotiations in 2016. The programme, however, did not see the light of the day as the Narendra Modi government decided in favour of indigenous development of an anti-tank guided missile by the State-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Since then, 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. To overcome this critical capability void, the Indian Army procured a limited quantity of Spike LR missiles, so as to meet the urgent operational requirement. Thus, India became the 33rd country to have the Spike missile as part of its inventory.

Spike LR is a fourth generation missile, which can engage a target with precision at ranges up to four km. In addition to fire-and-forget capability, the missile also has the ability to fire, observe and update, providing substantial flexibility to the firer to pinpoint the impact point, as also the ability to switch to a different target mid-flight, should he want to do so.

The missile has an inbuilt seeker, which gives the firer the flexibility to use any of two modes: Day (Charge-Coupled Device) and Night (Imaging Infra Red). 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.

As of date, more than 5,000 Spike missiles have been fired worldwide, with the overall hit percentage being more than 95 per cent. The user also has the option to fire from either low or high trajectory.

Since the induction and training, this was the first time that soldiers from the Indian Army carried out practice firing of the missile. The confidence of the users in the missile was such that difficult firing scenarios were deliberately selected. This included firing into the sun with CCD, and firing with IIR without any heating of the target, using only the ambient temperature difference. All missiles successfully engaged the targets during the user tests.

With the confidence in the Spike missile established, the Indian Army may need to revisit their plans for third generation missiles soon. India is currently pursuing two third generation anti-tank missile programmes – one from DRDO and the other that invited the Indian industry to develop a third Gen missile. However, it would be prudent to have a fourth generation missile and if that be the case, the development of third generation ATGM will become redundant.

The Original Equipment Manufacturer of the Spike missile, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Limited from Israel, has established a joint venture with the Indian company Kalyani Group and the Kalyani Rafale Advanced Systems JV is capable of manufacturing Spike missiles in India, and will also look at export opportunities from India.

DRDO’s Reaction: In a tweet today, the DRDO reacted to media reports, stating forcefully that the ATGM it has developed is a state-of-the-art weapon system. When reached out to the DRDO spokesperson, he clarified that the tweet was not specific to the Defence.Capital report.

Editorial Response: Though the DRDO spokesperson has clarified that the tweet was not in relation to this Defence.Capital report on the Spike missile testing, for upholding transparency, it is declared that the news item was prepared based on a statement issued by a Public Relations firm from Mumbai, whose representative claimed over the phone to represent both Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Kalyani Group.

Also, Defence.Capital independently verified with the Indian Army headquarters the Spike missile test and General Bipin Rawat’s presence at the trials at Mhow, before publishing. It is also made clear that the Defence.Capital report has not called the DRDO’s ATGM as a missile not falling under the state-of-the-art category.

However, Defence.Capital published only verified and verifiable facts on the matter, along with opinion on some of the issues involved including one on the prudence of a third generation ATGM when fourth generation ATGM is available to the Indian Army to buy.

It is stated firmly that Defence.Capital stands by the report.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Reacts:

In a late night statement from Mumbai, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems apologised for “any unintended communication” and that the media reports were “disturbing the amicable relationship” it has with DRDO.

“Rafael Advanced Defense Systems would like to clear the misrepresentation in media today, and condemns such conjectures that are drawn without any truth. We apologize for any unintended communication that has triggered emotional misbalance (sic).

“These reports are disturbing the amicable relationship of the two organizations that are committed to serve India. We wish to put on record that our collective effort will bring in the best in class technologies that will strengthen India’s defence systems.

“Rafael Advanced Defense System affirms and applauds the work done by DRDO in building new age technologies for India. Rafael remains fully committed to its partner DRDO and displays Indo-Israel robust and long-term relationship that fosters joint development of products for tomorrow.”

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