New Delhi: About 15 years after the initial decision was taken only to be spiked later for an Israeli system and then for an indigenous solution, India and the US are back to the negotiating table for the joint production of the shoulder mounted Javelin anti-tank guided missiles, reported ThePrint.

Several experts in the defence sector hardly expressed any surprise at the turn of events.

They said that the US’ dogged pursuit of the deal and failure of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to come out with a credible alternative has turned the wheel back to where it started.

It is reported that the discussions on the joint production of the missiles took place recently during a high-level visit from the US to India. The recent high profile visit was that of US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan this month during which a number of key issues including military cooperation was discussed.

While fresh talks have been held, it was way back in August 2010 that India publicly announced its plans to acquire the Javelins, a system that has proved to be a killer in the hands of Ukrainians against the Russians.

In a written reply in the Lok Sabha, the then Defence Minister A.K. Antony informed Parliament that his ministry was planning to issue a Letter of Request to the US for procurement of 3rd Generation Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM), Javelin.

He had said that the procurement was being planned under the US FMS (Foreign Military Sale) route and would involve transfer of technology.

Under the FMS route, the defence ministry would directly negotiate with the US government, without the involvement of the manufacturer of the missile system. India was required to pay the price which the US government pays to its contractors, plus a nominal fee as administrative charges.

In 2010, the Army had a shortfall of 44,000 ATGMs of various kinds against a sanctioned holding strength of about 81,000. The Army till then was only operating the 2nd generation 2-km-range Milan of Russian origin and 4-km-range Russian Konkurs ATGMs.

However, news came in 2012 that the Javelin deal hit a roadblock over transfer of critical technology and reluctance of the American government to participate in the field trials.

Manufactured under a joint venture of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, the missile till then had been showcased only at joint exercises held between both the countries.

And then in 2014 after the Modi government took over, India decided to buy 8,356 Spike anti-tank guided missiles and 321 launchers from Israel for ₹3,200 crore, rejecting the US offer of Javelin missiles that Washington was lobbying hard for.

India will outright buy 8,356 missiles and 321 launchers from Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defence Systems followed by transfer of technology (ToT) to defence PSU Bharat Dynamics Limited for large-scale manufacture.

At that time, it was said that the Army needed about 40,000 Spike systems to fully equip its 382 infantry battalions and 44 mechanised infantry units.

So while the Army was set to finally induct the Israeli ATGMs, the DRDO started pitching for the indigenous MT-ATGM (Man Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile). DRDO’s contention was that MP-ATGM will be a third generation ‘fire and forget’ ATGM derived from India’s NAG ATGM.

Based on the claims of the DRDO, the defence ministry had in January 2015 approved the DRDO project to make a man-portable version of the Nag missile with a probable completion date of around July 2018.

Accordingly in 2017, India cancelled plans to induct the Spike ATGM much to the surprise of the Israelis. However, following a visit to India in January 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was informed by the Indian government that it decided to put the Spike deal back on track.

Earlier that month in 2018, Rafael had said it received a letter from India’s Ministry of Defence cancelling the deal worth about USD 500 million.

The US kept at it and offered joint production of the Javelin under the now defunct Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) route in 2019. But, India kept buying small volumes of Spike to beef up its Army even as it waited for the indigenous solution.

The Indian MP-ATGM is still under development and has been tested several times with the objective of proving the technology’s superiority. The system consists of the MP-ATGM, Launcher, Target Acquisition System, and Fire Control Unit.

However, an ANI report said that the Indian forces are looking at “shoulder-fired missile systems that are less in weight and can be carried in difficult terrain by troops without engaging too many of them to carry it”.

This meant that the Indian solution is heavier than what the Army wanted and beats the whole idea of it being easily portable.

It is reported that the Indian partner for joint production of the Javelin system would be identified at a later stage, as discussions have just started.

(With Reporting By ThePrint)