New Delhi: Plans are afoot to make the indigenously developed laser-equipped anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), successfully fired twice from the Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun over the last fortnight, capable of being used on the Russian-origin T-90 tanks that have different guns.

With two successful tests, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is aiming for user trials of the ATGM by February next year.

Sources in the defence and security establishment said the trials so far have been carried out on the Arjun tanks, with a range of 3-4 km. The DRDO wants to test the ATGM at a 5km range to evaluate its efficacy.

“In the next stage, we will also be test-firing the missile with a warhead before the user trials, which should take place by February,” a source in the know said. 

While the first two tests — on 22 September and 1 October — took place at the K.K. Ranges in the Armoured Corps Centre and School (ACC&S), Ahmednagar — the next would be at a bigger range, sources added.

The ATGM employs a tandem heat warhead to defeat explosive-reactive-armour (ERA)-protected armoured vehicles in ranges between 1.5 and 5 km. 

It has been developed with a capability to launch from multiple platforms. The ATGM is currently undergoing technical evaluation trials through the 120mm rifled gun of MBT Arjun, and the DRDO also seeks to make it compatible with the 125mm smoothbore gun of the T-90s.

“Right now, it is meant for the 120mm rifled gun of the MBT Arjun. The plan is to make it compatible with the 125mm smoothbore gun of the T-90s,” a source said.

The Arjun Saga

An order for 118 indigenously manufactured Arjun Mark 1-A ‘Hunter Killers’, with all-weather capability and better firepower and stability than the Arjun MBT, is yet to fructify.

Sources in the know said that the decision has been made and the process is on, despite the Covid-19 pandemic delaying it and the focus shifting on account of the ongoing tensions with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). 

While the Army started inducting two regiments of Arjun MBTs in 2004, in 2010, it proposed an improved version, to be called the Mark II and equipped with over 80 improvements, including 15 major ones.

In 2012, the DRDO offered the Arjun for trials with all the major enhancements, except one — a cannon-launched guided missile (CLGM).

The Army had insisted on having that capability, since other tanks like the T-90 also had it.

The DRDO engaged the Israelis and sourced the Lahat CLGM, which could conclusively hit targets between 2 and 5 kilometres away. The trials validated the CLGM’s laser designator.

The Army, however, wanted a missile that could hit targets as close as 1.2 km.

The Israelis, who were first offered to develop this capability, took about a year to decide on producing it, but, by then, the DRDO had decided to go in for an indigenous CLGM.

Talks between the DRDO and the Army continued until March 2018, and it was finally agreed that the next batch of Arjuns, to be called Mark 1-A, would be supplied without the missile-firing capability. 

However, V. Balamurugan, the director of the DRDO’s Chennai-based Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE), had said in March that the missile could actually be integrated onto the Mark 1-A as the tanks start rolling out.