by Bibekananda Modak

One of the low points of browsing the defence websites is to feel how much lagging our country is in acquiring the latest defence technologies. For example, China has already launched an aircraft carrier with indigenous electromagnetic catapult assisted launch system while India's BEL has just started experimenting on a table-top model of such a system. China and Turkey has progressed far in combat proving indigenous low cost combat drones while the Indian drone program which started in the 1980s is still in the advanced development phase. Similar backwardness characterizes our directional energy weapons and electromagnetic rail-guns programs.

India is considered self sufficient in design and production of various tactical and strategic combat missiles including ballistic, cruise, anti-ship, air to surface, air to air, air defence and anti-missile systems. Historically India is a pioneer in this field as the Mysore army under Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan used iron-cased rockets against the British East India Company during the 1780s and 1790s. India restarted missile development after independence in the 1970s with the project Devil and the project Valiant which culminated in the quite successful Integrated Guided Missile Development Program and the Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Program.

So it was quite a surprise to me to find that there is no project or vision in India to develop the next technological step - the miniaturization of the missiles, to be used as a personal combat weapon. However the world is fast progressing to miniaturise the missiles and our neighbour China has taken a lead in this technology.

The pioneer in developing the micro missiles is expectedly the US, where on August 17, 2015, Raytheon launched the latest generation of light missile named "Lance". Its body length is about 45 cm and the missile diameter is about 40 mm, and the projectile weight is only about 0.9kg ( the overall size is thus equivalent to a cucumber, and the 'Spear' micro missile of this generation has also won the reputation of "cucumber missile.")

A Spear micro missile is roughly the same weight as thirty two 7.62-caliber bullets. Each American soldier can even carry six Spear missiles without affecting his other basic combat functions.

There is no necessity of carrying any specific launcher. The calibre of the Spear missile is 40 mm, which is common with the grenade launchers used in the West and is considered "one size" in weapons & ammunition. Raytheon has designated the M320 grenade launcher as the launcher of Spear missiles. This launcher can be used with American M16 rifles and other firearms, which is extremely convenient.

China launched it's micro missile QN202 at the Zuhai Air Show on 6th November 2018. Developed and manufactured by AutoNavi Infrared, a private enterprise based in Wuhan Optics Valley, it's length is 52 cm and the diameter is 60 mm, and the projectile weight is 1.2 kg.

However the QN202 missile requires a specific launcher which also weighs 1.2 kg. Without it the QN202 micro missile is basically equivalent to the weight of two bottles of conventional mineral water. Each PLA soldier's backpack can carry six QN202 micro missiles. If the soldier holds another one mated to it's launcher, then he can carry seven micro missiles (total 9.6 kg including the launcher) without affecting his other basic combat functions.

The Chinese QN202 missile beats the US Spear missile in it's more advanced launch systems. It's a "fire and forget" system ("Don't care after launch" in the Chinese parlance) which means one only needs to use the scope on the gun transmitter to complete the one-key lock and after the launch, it does not require continuous laser irradiation of the target. In fact, as long as the operator completes the step of locking the target, there is no need to do ANY extra operations on the QN202 missile. Once the target is locked , QN202 can be launched automatically by a timer or a transmitter from a secondary source without any further guidance. This gives the ability of the operator to "scoot before shoot" - i.e. he can leave the gun launcher mated with missile fixed in a position to flee the scene before launching the missile. The gun launcher of the QN202 is similar to an ordinary military assault rifle and has an aiming display similar to a gun sight. The display can display the images transmitted by the missile seeker, and is also equipped with a fore grip, a target indication system, and a retractable support.

The U.S. Spear missile requires continuous laser irradiation. This results in requirement of two persons - one launches the missile and another person continuously irradiates the target with laser. Not only two lives are endangered, the laser torch used can give away the position of the operators.

However, the Spear missile will not start the rocket engine immediately after launching, and starts after the missile has exited a certain distance, and there is basically no smoke in the process of starting and launching. On the other hand once the QN202 missile is launched, there is fire and sound - so it is important for the operators to scoot before they shoot.

On the issue of security, the launch of the Lance generation micro missiles require entering a "password" to prevent accidental touches. According to Raytheon's design, if one wants to install the Spear micro missile into the grenade launcher, he must not only verify the user's identity, but also need to enter a fixed laser code, which not only ensures the user's safety, but also restricts it from being used by any unauthorized person. The Chinese QN202 missile maker hasn't advertised any such safety features.

The Spear micro missile has a range of more than 2 kilometers while the QN202 has a range of 2 kilometers.

One Spear missile is more than enough to destroy a tank or a heavy armoured vehicle while the QN202 missile is cleared to be used against light armour and unprotected targets. Used against a 5 cm thick homogeneous steel armour as an experimental object, the penetration rate of the QN202 can even be greater than 80%, and the effective killing radius is more than 6 meters.

Spear is far more accurate than QN202 when hitting fixed or slow-moving targets and all this stems from it's precise laser guidance and the continuous laser illumination of the target. It can even be said that there is basically no error in target homing of the US missile.

QN202 can also be carried on any UAV (like the WS30 micro drone independently developed by AutoNavi Infrared which is equipped with a special barrel device to carry four QN202 micro missiles into it). The Spear isn't used on the drones but the US MQ-1 predator uses Small Smart Weapon or Scorpion missile (manufactured by Lockheed Martin) that's 53 cm long and weighs 16 kg (comparable to the Chinese "Rainbow" missiles exclusively used on drones).

The advantages of micro missiles are myriad, specially in the small scale local (or non traditional complex) operations like in the anti-terrorist operations, urban street fighting and in the drone operations. It empowers & lessens the life-risk of the special forces soldiers or the infantrymen - and lessens the collateral damages. They are flexible-use, easy to carry and score better on all the three combat parameters of "safety", "concealment" and "accuracy" compared to the most other infantry weapon systems.

I haven't come across any Indian initiative to develop any indigenous micro missiles and that's the reason why I wrote up this article and posted it on the IDN, fervently hoping any Indian private sector start-up or DRDO will take notice. For comparison, the smallest Indian combat missile Astra-1 is 3.8 m in length, 178 mm in diameter and it's overall launch weight is 160 kg. So it will be quite a challenge for the Indian scientists to progress from here.

Anindya Modak is an defence enthusiast.  Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN