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Spike Nails Javelin
by James Dunnigan
November 26, 2014

India recently awarded a $525 million contract to Israel for 8,356 Spike ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and 300 control units. The main competitor for this contract was the American Javelin missile. This contract was almost signed 18 months ago but was withdrawn at the last moment when it was suspected that some bribery was involved. All this was very discouraging for the troops, who have been seeking a modern ATGM for over a decade.

After several years of testing and negotiation, in early 2013 the Indian Army had decided on a supplier for a new ATGM for its 356 infantry battalions. The deal was about to be awarded to an Israeli firm (for its Spike ATGM) when the entire process was cancelled over fears that corruption may have been involved. No one was accused of taking a bribe but so much of that had occurred in India that the politicians overruled the generals and ordered them to run the search again and come up with at least two finalists not tainted by any corruption. The politicians were under a lot of pressure to curb corruption, and this move made it look like someone was making an effort. The selection process was repeated and the results were the same. This time the contract went through.

The Indian army had originally wanted to buy the Javelin and the Americans were willing to allow production to take place in India. That deal fell apart because Indian procurement officials were unwilling to guarantee that U.S. technology would not be stolen. Israel pitched its similar Spike missile and did not consider potential technology theft to be a deal breaker.

The Indian Army was not happy with the last minute cancellation in 2013 as they need a replacement for their 1970s era Milan ATGMs. India has been building the French designed Milans for over three decades but there had long been calls to replace it with a more modern design. There was also growing pressure to use Indian designed weapons. In the 1990s India decided to develop their own ATGM. Despite a two decade effort to develop an effective ATGM to replace Milan, the Indians came up empty. The Milan design was updated several times since it first appeared in 1972 but there are several other more recent designs that are more effective and army leaders wanted one of these.

The first choice was Javelin. Introduced in 2002, it weighs 22.3 kg (49 pounds, with disposable launch tube and battery/seeker coolant unit) and is fired from a 6.4 kg (14 pound) CLU (command launch unit). The CLU contains a 4x day sight and a 9x heat sensing night sight. The missile has a tandem (two warheads, to blast through reactive armor) that can hit a target straight on or from the top. This latter capability enables the Javelin to use its 8.2 kg (18 pound) warhead to destroy any existing tank (including the U.S. M1). Maximum range is 2,500 meters. Best of all, the seeker on the missile is "fire and forget." That is, once the operator gets the target in the CLU crosshairs and fires the missile, the computer and seeker in the missile warhead memorizes the target and homes in on it. The infantry loves this because it allows them to take cover once the missile is fired and shows the enemy where they are.

The Israeli missile closest to the Javelin was the Spike MR. This missile, in a container, weighs 14 kg (30.8 pounds), while the CLU (with thermal sight and battery) weighs 12.8 kg (28.3 pounds). Like Javelin, Spike MR has a range of 2,500 meters and is "fire and forget." France recently went looking for a MILAN replacement and the two finalists were Javelin and Spike MR. Javelin won. The result would have been the same in India were it not for inability to reach an agreement on technology transfer.

Since the 1970s some 30,000 Milans have been produced in India, under license from European firm MBDA. India has also produced nearly 3,000 launchers. India believes that against Pakistan (the enemy that is most likely to use a lot of armored vehicles against India) Milan can still get the job done. But more modern ATGMs get the job done better and at the loss of fewer Indian infantrymen. This is a popular attitude, and the army was not happy with all the delays in selecting a new ATGM. Then there is China, which has more modern tanks and is actively developing new armored vehicles. Against China Milan had outlived its usefulness and China is the principal weapons supplier to Pakistan.

The basic Milan is a 1.2 meter long, 125mm diameter, 7.1 kg (16 pound) missile. It has a minimum range of 400 meters and maximum range of 2,000 meters. At max range the missile takes about 13 seconds to reach its target. The missile is guided to the target by the operator via a thin wire. The launcher weighs 21 kg (46 pounds). The missile can penetrate about a meter of armor, making it effective against all but the most modern tanks (M-1, Challenger, Leopard II). That means Milan will still destroy all the tanks Pakistan currently has aimed at India.

The Indians pay about $30,000 per Milan missile and have had good success with them in combat. The Javelins cost more than twice as much but are much more effective. Since the 1970s, over 350,000 Milan missiles and 30,000 launchers have been built worldwide. However the more modern ATGMs are wireless and require much less effort on the part of the operator.

The main problems with the Milan are time in flight and the need for operator guidance. Since ATGMs first saw action three decades ago, operators quickly discovered that in the time it took (up to 15 seconds) for the missile to reach its target, enemy troops would often shower them with machine-gun fire and force the ATGM operator to miss the target. The most recent ATGM designs sought to deal with that. Another Javelin feature is "soft launch", where the missile is popped out of the launch tube by a small explosive charge, small enough to allow the Javelin to be fired from inside a building. Once the missile is about eight meters out, the main rocket motor ignites. The minimum range is, however, 75 meters. It takes about 20 seconds to reload a CLU after a missile has been fired, while Spike MR needs only 15 seconds. Indian troops got a chance to fire Javelins in 2010 and were very impressed. Not just because of its ease of use and accuracy but because the missile is combat proven and is known to be very effective at non-vehicle targets. The CLU also performs well as a night vision device, which is how many American troops used it in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Spike was tested as well and was considered a satisfactory alternative to the Javelin. India already has a lot of Israeli military gear and Indian users are pleased with it.


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