Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nag anti-tank missile back in reckoning

Eighteen years after it was first tested, the meandering saga of the indigenous Nag anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) is finally entering the climax phase after an expenditure of over Rs 300 crore.

Or so it seems, with Defence Research and Development Organisation planning the "final developmental flight trials" of Nag at Pokhran on July 27-28, which will be followed by the "user-trials" in mid-September, say sources.

Having placed an order for 443 Nag missiles and 13 Namicas (Nag missile tracked carriers) for induction over three years, the Army is keeping its fingers firmly crossed.

The urgent need for ATGMs can be gauged from the fact that after ordering 4,000 Konkurs-M missiles, the Army is now looking for 4,100 "advanced" ATGMs with tandem warheads for "better kill probability" of enemy tanks.

The Army, in fact, has agreed to reframe its GSQRs (general staff qualitative requirements) for the 4,100 new missiles - by reducing its "essential" strike range from 2,000 metres to 1,850 metres - to enable defence PSU Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) to participate in the programme.

BDL, incidentally, manufactures variants of the second-generation 2-km-range "Milan" and 4-km-range "Konkurs" ATGMs, under licence from French and Russian companies, at around Rs 4.50 lakh per unit.

The third-generation Nag missile, with a four-km strike range, will also be manufactured by BDL. But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

Over 60 developmental trials of Nag have been conducted over the years but recurring problems in the guidance systems, especially in the "imaging infra-red (IIR) sensor-based seeker", has meant the missile is still to become fully operational. DRDO, however, is quite confident now, holding that Nag will be among the world's most advanced ATGMs, better than other contemporary missiles like Israeli 2.5-km Gill and four-km Spike missiles.

"The Army has already accepted the Nag, which has fire-and-forget, day-and-night and top-attack (the missile pops up and hits the tank's vulnerable upper portion like the gun-turret) capabilities," said a DRDO official. "There have been delays due to import embargoes, problems in development of the IIR seeker, change in NAMICA configurations and the like. But Nag, which also has high immunity to counter-measures, is fully-ready now," he added.

Apart from the NAMICA platform, that can carry 12 missiles, Nag will also have an airborne version named "Helina" to be fitted on the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter, which will be configured to carry eight missiles in two launchers.

Incidentally, Nag was one of the "core missile systems" of the country's original Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), launched as far back as in 1983. Announcing the IGMDP's "virtual closure" earlier this year, DRDO declared that development work on all other missiles - Agni, Prithvi, Akash and Trishul - had been completed.

Though work on "strategic" long-range nuclear-capable missiles like Agni-III (3,500-km range) and Agni-V (over 5,000-km) will still be "undertaken in-house", India will also look at foreign collaboration in other armament projects to cut down on delays.

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