When Gen. Bikram Singh took over as Army chief last year, he made it clear that military procurement was his top priority. True to his word, the Army Headquarters okayed a number of weapon purchases that included night-vision devices for T-72 tanks, 52-calibre gun systems and air surveillance radars. The biggest one in the pipeline was the Rs.15,000 crore anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) deal.
The Army was keen to buy the Spike anti-tank missile, a lethal tank-killer manufactured by Israel's Rafael company, to replace the older Milan and Konkurs missiles. But, in the Defence Acquisition Council meeting held on April 2, Defence Minister A.K. Antony announced the freezing of the Spike missiles contract and ordered a technology scan—a procedure meant to ascertain whether it was possible to get a similar system from anywhere else.
The deal is now under scanner for more than one reason. Months before the documents related to the Spike missile reached Antony, someone from the defence ministry had, allegedly, leaked a bundle of classified documents related to the anti-tank missile programme to global arms dealers. The leaked documents contained precise details of the trial report, the exact quantity of launchers and missiles and an update on the procurement process. A stunned defence ministry is now trying to verify whether procurement procedures were manipulated to favour Rafael. Edmonds Allen, New York-based businessmen and whistle-blower, told the THE WEEK that top secret documents related to the procurement of the ATGMs were leaked. “I do not know who provided those documents to [Abhishek] Verma [currently in jail for selling classified Indian military documents]. He shared the documents with foreign defence firms,” said Allen. “I have shared the details with the CBI.”
During the desert trials in 2008, the Spike allegedly failed as seven out of 10 missiles had missed their targets, according to an Army officer who was familiar with the trials. “The trial team also raised questions about the missile's infrared seeker,” said the officer. Yet, the Spike was selected on a single-vendor basis, without any competition. Now, a technology scan is under way to find out whether similar missiles are available.
More than the technology scan, it is the allegations of corruption surrounding the deal that may force the defence ministry to notify a fresh tender. If the suspicion of corruption is confirmed, at the very least, the deal would be terminated, according to a senior official. That would be disastrous for Rafael as it would jeopardise hundreds of well-paid jobs, especially at its facility in Haifa. Moreover, the company could be blacklisted for several years in India, if it is proven that it hired middlemen or paid commissions. Israel Military Industries, another leading Israeli firm, was blacklisted for 10 years after its name figured in a corruption scandal last year. Antony has been exceptionally strict on defence deals.
When asked whether Rafael was associated with Verma or whether the company had hired him for consultancy services in India, company spokesperson Amit Zimmer told THE WEEK that Rafael did not provide such information. He, however, said the Spike was a well-known state-of-the-art system with 20 customers worldwide and orders exceeding 23,000 missiles.
“The Spike missiles are being successfully used by our customers in training and operations from different platforms, including infantry, combat vehicles and combat helicopters, for more than 15 years,” said Zimmer. “Over 300 Spike missiles are fired each year with a high degree of technical and operational success.”
The Spike deal was meant to equip 356 infantry battalions of the Army with the latest anti-tank missiles. The Army, with an authorised holding of 81,206 ATGMs, is currently facing a shortage of around 44,000 missiles. Former Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh highlighting a critical shortage of arms and ammunition, including that of the anti-tank missiles. While self-reliance has been India's long stated goal, the country still imports about 70 per cent of its weapons, including the anti-tank missiles, which can also be used to hit enemy bunkers that provide covering fire to infiltrators in border regions.
“The military is directed to prepare themselves for a two-front war with Pakistan and China,” said Lt-Gen. (retd) Prakash Katoch, a special forces veteran. “Yet, they are short of something as basic as anti-tank missiles.” He said China already had third-generation missiles like the Green Arrow and the Red Arrow, while Pakistan was in possession of second-generation missiles like the Baktar-Shikan. The Pakistani army has approximately 2,400 tanks and India has 3,250, while China with 7,450 has more tanks than any other country in the world.
It was during the Kargil War that Indian commanders realised the operational utility of the advanced anti-tank missiles as the Pakistani army had dug itself in high-altitude bunkers. Initially, the Army was keen to buy the American Javelin ATGMs, jointly produced by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. But, the deal fell through after the US did not permit technology transfer for indigenous production by Bharat Dynamics Limited. With the Spike deal under scanner, the Americans are again pitching for the Javelin and they now appear to be willing to share the technology as well. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon said in a joint statement that they were ready to offer the Javelin as an option to meet India's requirement for an advanced, fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missile.
“The Indian programme is a priority for the Javelin Joint Venture,” said Lockheed Martin and Raytheon in an email response. “We are prepared to comply with India's requirements for major defence procurements, including transfer of technology....” They said the Javelin was successfully fired in the recent India-US Yudh Abhyas bilateral exercise with five direct hits, of which three were fired by Indian gunners. Like the Spike, the Javelin, too, is a third-generation missile that relies on an electro-optical image seeker, requiring no guidance during the flight.
India is also developing an indigenous third-generation anti-tank missile, called the Nag. The defence ministry has spent Rs.1,700 crore on the Nag, which is being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation. The 42.3kg-missile with an 8.2kg warhead can move at a speed of 230m/sec for up to 6,000 metres. It is currently undergoing trials in Rajasthan. The Nag is among a select few fire-and-forget missiles like the Spike and the Javelin; once it is fired, its seeker automatically guides the missile to even a fast-moving tank. While the Javelin and the Spike are lighter missiles that can be carried by a soldier, the Nag is heavier and more powerful, designed to operate from vehicles and helicopters.
“While the infrared seekers of the Javelin and the Spike can be jammed, the Nag's optical guidance system makes it virtually jam-proof,” said DRDO spokesperson Ravi Gupta. “The Army should buy it. It is the most lethal and advanced anti-tank missile in the world.”
But, officials at the Army headquarters said the Nag had been going through trials for so many years. “You cannot expect the Army to wait for decades for something as crucial as an anti-tank missile,” said a commander. The DRDO admitted that the Nag had faced problems while hitting targets at a four-km range because of high temperatures in the deserts of Rajasthan. Here, the temperatures of the target as well as the surroundings often become the same and the missiles could not differentiate between the target and the surroundings. “We have resolved the temperature anomaly and we are confident that the Army will be impressed by the performance of the missile,” said Gupta. According to the DRDO, the missiles with their improved detectors would perform with more efficiency and accuracy even in extreme temperatures.
At the defence ministry, top officials admitted that the weapons' procurement system suffered from poor long-term planning. Even the upgrade of second-generation Konkurs missiles is delayed by about two decades because of poor planning and coordination, according to a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, tabled in Parliament last month. The Konkurs, like the Milan, is a wire-guided anti-tank missile, which does not have capability to destroy tanks fitted with explosive reactive armour (ERA). It was in 1994 that the Army decided to induct the Konkurs-M missiles, an advanced version of the Konkurs, capable of defeating tanks protected by ERA. But, the process of finalising the contract took about eight years and then technology absorption got delayed further, resulting in a loss of Rs.283.72 crore, according to the CAG. The defence ministry has now approached Russian company Rosoboronexport to purchase 10,000 Konkurs-M at a cost of Rs.1,223 crore.
The notorious delays, cancellations and corruption have derailed many defence programmes. Another corruption scandal in military procurement is the last thing the government wants now. For the moment, however, all eyes are on the technological scan report, which is being conducted by the Integrated Defence Staff Headquarters. The report is expected to be submitted anytime now.
3G MISSILESAnti-tank missiles are used against enemy vehicles and bunkers, besides tanks.
The prominent third generation anti-tank missiles are Spike and Javelin. India's indigenous Nag is undergoing tests
SpikeIsraeli company Rafael manufactures the Spike family of anti-tank missiles.
The Spike LR is an anti-armour weapon system with a 4km range and a soldier can carry it.
It can be operated in fire-and-forget mode as well as in fire, observe and update mode for non-line-of-sight operations using the fibre optic data link.
A soldier can carry two missiles at a time and the total system weight is 26kg.
Rafael claims it has 20 buyers worldwide and orders for more than 23,000 missiles.
Also a man-portable, anti-tank missile. Used during the Iraq war, it is now deployed in Afghanistan.
India was keen to buy it, but the US refused to share the technology.
The manufacturer, Lockheed Martin-Raytheon, now says it is ready to share the technology with India.
NagIndia's own anti-tank missile, developed by the DRDO, is facing issues with the 4km range.
It is a fire-and-forget missile and can search enemy tanks through thermal imaging telescopes, which help vision at night.
The defence ministry has spent $1,700 crore on its development.
The Javelin and the Spike are lighter and can be carried by a soldier while the Nag is designed to be operated from vehicles.
India's missile chase* Anti-tank missile deal worth $15,000 crore in the pipeline
* Israel's Spike missile selected on single-tender basis; deal put on hold because of technical review and fears of kickbacks; allegation of corruption as documents leaked to arms dealers
* Javelin and Nag now also in the fray, apart from Spike
* The Army has a shortage of about 44,000 missiles
CHINA, INDIA AND PAKISTAN
China's third generation anti-tank missiles, the Green Arrow and Red Arrow are very advanced. China has more than 7,450 battle tanks.
India has second generation Milan and Konkurs missiles. These are semi-automatic missiles that require the soldier to sight the target and guide the weapon.
India has more than 3,250 battle tanks.
Pakistan has second generation Baktar Shikan missiles, based on a Chinese missile. Pakistan has 2,400 battle tanks.