An illustration of a man-portable anti-tank guided missile (MPATGM) - Representation

by Sandeep Unnithan

For a country that has developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, the failure to develop a 4 km range missile to destroy battle tanks is a conundrum. Last year, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) completed the development of the Nag, the last of its Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) missiles that began in 1983. Successful trials of the Nag in 2016 and 2017 have finally put the missile on the path to induction by the army, 35 years after the programme began. The Nag's luck seems to have rubbed off on a new project to build a smaller man-portable anti-tank guided missile (MPATGM). The MPATGM was successfully tested by the DRDO on September 15 and 16 at an army firing range in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, and met all its performance parameters.

"The successful test of the Nag has given us a lot of confidence and we have now mastered most of the critical technologies pertaining to anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs)," says a senior DRDO official. Among the most difficult aspects is the development of an infra-red seeker that is able to distinguish a target from the clutter of a battlefield, especially in high temperature conditions.

While each 4 km range Nag missile weighs over 40 kg and is carried into battle by a NAMICA (Nag missile carrier)-tracked vehicle based on an armoured personnel carrier, the MPATGM is a comparative feather-weight at 14.5 kg and, as its designation suggests, is meant to be hefted into the battlefield by soldiers. Once launched, the missile can home in to attack the top of enemy tanks, where they are most vulnerable, at ranges of between 200 m and 2.5 km.

The missile, being developed in collaboration with Hyderabad-based private sector firm VEM Technologies, is an emerging success story for a public-private partnership.

The MPATGM would complete all its trials in the next six months and be handed over to the army for user evaluation next year. Going by the Nag experience, these are radical timelines. The MPATGM project was started three years ago under the government's Make in India programme to meet the army's requirement of over 80,000 ATGMs by fielding an indigenously designed, developed and manufactured missile.

In January this year, the defence ministry scrapped a plan to import 8,000 'Spike' ATGM missiles and 300 launchers from Israel. Instead, the Cabinet Committee on Security is to shortly greenlight a government-to-government deal for purchasing 5,000 Spike ATGMs from Israel.

The rest of the army will get the DRDO-built MPATGM over the next few years.