ATGM 5 : A New Anti-Tank Capability
Indian subcontinent remains one of the few geographical areas in the world where the threat of a conventional armed conflict remains high and within the realm of possibilities. Acquisition of military hardware and capability development in this field remains high on the agenda of the nations in the region. India, too, like all its neighbours continues to equip its armed forces to defend itself against aggression protect its strategic interests.
Some of the largest mechanised forces fleets are maintained in the region and there is a constant endeavour to stay a step ahead of the adversary, both as a deterrent, as well as a potent fighting force. One of the basic weapons contributing to the success of both offensive and defensive operations has long been and remains the ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) system.
Due to their precision and destructive capability, ATGM’s importance on the battlefield continues to grow, especially with the development of ever more mobile and better armoured vehicles. Of course the modern threat can just as easily be asymmetric as opposed to the traditional main battle tank threat for which the original ATGMs were first designed. These asymmetric threats could be snipers concealed behind a wall or terrorists launching a suicide attack with an explosive laden 4x4 vehicle. As a result, a modern ATGM needs to be able to take out a range of targets. Additionally, and given the growing need for flexibility, ATGMs need to offer solutions which include launch from man-portable tripod firing posts, from vehicles such as wheeled trucks, infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), armoured personnel carriers (APC), tanks and air platforms such as helicopters.
The first anti-tank missile to be designed and produced was SS-10 by a French company called Nord Aviation in 1948. Nord Aviation would go on via mergers to become Aerospatiale which in due course would be part of the merger that resulted in the creation of MBDA in 2001. SS-10 (a manual command to line of sight operated weapon - MCLOS) entered service with the French Army in 1955 and was adopted by several other armies around the world but primarily by the US and Israel. MBDA, Europe’s leading guided weapons company, can therefore claim to having produced the world’s very first ATGM.
Since then there have been several developments and enhancements in the form of 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation ATGMs produced by various countries with the latest generations offering fire-and-forget and even effectiveness against both hot and cold targets. Since the early days of SS-10, MBDA has continued to develop its offering in this area and as such has long been associated with the eponymous Milan system which itself has gone through several generational enhancements such as Milan 2T, Milan 3 and more recently Milan ER. At the height of its popularity, the very name ‘Milan’ became synonymous with ATGM capability with hundreds of thousands of missiles supplied to around 40 customers around the world.
In fact Milan has been a staple of the Indian Army since the 1970s. It has also provided the launchpad for MBDA’s long standing partnership with the Indian defence industry. Since the 1970s BDL has produced tens of thousands of this exceptionally efficient ATGM.
SS-10 was the first generation ATGM, other well-known weapons in the category such as Kornet, Javelin and Spike have been developed to advance the anti-armour capability to the 2nd and 3rd generations. However, in 2013, France decided it wanted a weapon with added features for its armed forces, features that went way beyond what was available with existing systems and missiles. This called for a step change in capability and an advance into the 5th generation category.
Since then MBDA has moved rapidly through design, development and testing to be ready to deliver a fifth generation missile and firing post to the French Army later this year (See box). This development is known as MMP, represents a vital addition to MBDA’s range of battlefield systems. It features both “man in the loop” and “fire and forget” capabilities as well as optional missile flight trajectories allowing it to be fired against non-line of sight targets. Suitable for a wide range of battlefield targets (from tanks to infrastructures, hot and cold targets) and platforms (from portable firing posts to vehicles and army aviation platforms), MMP’s architecture and technologies position the missile well ahead of the competition. These advantages have already been recognised, with the result that a contract was placed in early December 2013 for 400 launchers and 2,850 missiles for the French army. MMP will be inducted in the French Army mid-2017.
A range of unmatched features combine to support MMP’s claim to be 5th generation. In addition to its range of 4km and its dual mode seeker with visual TV channel and uncooled IR channels, the new technology introduces automatic seeker lock-on through image correlation between the missile and the firing post. This makes for an enhanced ability to lock-on to the target, stationary or fast moving. Importantly, and given the other advances on the modern battlefield, the new missile and its firing post are fully integrated within an NCW (networked) environment with the missile navigating via its IMU allowing for firing on given third party coordinates. Even the tandem warhead has been equipped with enhanced capabilities and selectable blast options to provide the utmost operational flexibility and the widest of target sets.
This 5th generation technology, only recently developed by MBDA, is being offered to India, not only to support the Indian armed forces but also as a project in line with the Make in India aspirations of the Modi government. MBDA is discussing with India the possibility of a major joint project to further cement this Make in India policy, a project that would see a co-development of a future fifth generation weapon known as ATGM5, based on MMP but designed to meet India’s specific operational requirements such as range, launch platform and warhead type. The JV between L&T and MBDA registered in 2017 - L&TMBDA Missile Systems Limited- will implement this Make in India policy.