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Russia and Ukraine demonstrate the future of warfare using advanced ATGMs and drones. India needs to do more

Modern Russian Igla missiles and some Stinger missiles for Apache attack helicopters are available to the Army. However, they are insignificant and won't have any impact.

Russian loss rumours have been stoked by Ukraine’s Kharkiv counter-offensive, which started on September 5 and recaptured 6,000 square kilometres of its land. Given its vast stockpiles and untapped battle potential, Russia is unlikely to experience a clear military defeat, but it has been stalemated, which is nothing less than a political setback for a stronger state. In the event that Ukraine is able to retake Kherson, growing manpower and material losses may force Russia to negotiate a face-saving victory limited to the Donbas region and Crimea.

Long-lasting guerrilla conflicts have often worn down stronger nations and led to their political defeat—Vietnam and Afghanistan are two such examples. A smaller country defeating a much stronger military power in a conventional battle would be unusual in military history, and Ukraine would be an exceptional case. In addition to the constants of national will, strategy, leadership, motivation, and excellent training, Ukraine has benefited from the use of cutting-edge military technology.

Except in built-up areas, pitched conflicts and close fighting have been conspicuously absent. Tanks, aeroplanes, attack helicopters, and artillery’s usefulness as key battle-winning elements has been greatly reduced.

Precision-guided munitions (PGMs), delivered by aircraft, helicopters, drones, and ground-based weapon systems, now determine the outcome of battles. These PGMs are supported by an effective C4ISTAR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance) system that is resistant to cyber and electronic warfare. Weapon systems with human-assisted artificial intelligence continue to dominate military technology. Weapons powered by full-spectrum autonomous artificial intelligence might still be two decades distant.

Drones, man-portable air defence weapon systems (MANPADs), and third to fifth-generation anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) have all played a significant role in the conflict in Ukraine. I evaluate the Indian Armed Forces’ existing capability in relation to these weapon systems.

Guided anti-tank missiles
For more than a century, the tank has dominated the battlefield. Through composite/explosive reactive armour, electronic/kinetic countermeasures, and targeting the exposed operators who must constantly follow the target, its technology has kept up with second-generation Semi-Automatic Command to Line of Sight (SACLOS) guided anti-tank missiles. The third through fifth generation interference-proof “fire and forget” top strike anti-tank missiles, notably the Javelin and New Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon, have gained the upper hand in the conflict in Ukraine (NLAW). There have been more than 1,000 wrecked Russian tanks. These missiles can take out electronic and kinetic defences, target the tank’s weak top, and don’t need ongoing guidance or tracking from an exposed operator.

Approximately 6,000 second-generation anti-tank missile launchers are available to the Indian Army. The infantry is armed with Konkurs, Kornet, and Faggot Launcher Adapted for Milan Equipment (FLAME) missiles. A missile launcher for the Konkurs is included with every BMP. 9M119M missiles are installed on T90 tanks, and they are launched through the main gun. All attack helicopters, with the exception of the Apache, are outfitted with second-generation missiles, including the Mi 25/35 and Rudra. On static targets, each of these missiles has a theoretical 90% kill probability. They are only capable of direct horizontal attack, which is thwarted by the tank’s protection system, and continuous tracking, which exposes the operator, hence their efficacy in a combat is only 25–30%. The tank has the advantage.

Israeli Spike ATGM launchers of the third and fifth generations, designed for top strike and fire-and-forget operations, have been imported in small numbers. Additionally, a small number of Nag Missile Carriers, also known as NAMICA (Nag indigenous ATGMs based on modified BMP2), have been included into the Reconnaissance and Support Battalions. The quantity of these cutting-edge systems is still too small to make an impact.

Based on the principle of “Atmanirbharta,” or self-reliance in defence, the Indian Army is now committed to “fighting future battles with indigenous solutions.” The Defence Research and Development Organization is working on a number of third through fifth-generation ATGMs as part of the Nag project (DRDO).

The base model of the land-attack, fire-and-forget ATGM, known as Prospina, has top attack capabilities and a four-kilometer range. Also possible is mounting it on the NAMICA. There have already been twelve NAMICAs inducted.

The helicopter-launched version, Helina/Dhruvastra, has a 7–10 km range. 7-10 km. Field tests are being conducted with the Man Portable Anti-Tank Missile (MPATGM) for Infantry and Special Forces. With a 20 km range, the Standoff ATGM (SANT) is an improved version of HELINA that may be used by local drones. The tube-launched Semi-Active Mission Homing (SAMHO) ATGM will also be modified for tank gun launching. A joint venture between European multinational missile developer MBDA and Indian manufacturing giant Larsen & Toubro has been established to build a fifth-generation ATGM.

I believe it will be another three to five years before the indigenous third to fifth generation ATGMs are introduced in enough quantity to have a substantial impact. The Indian Army will have to rely on second-generation ATGMs up until that time, which are only 25–30% effective compared to the third–fiveth generation ATGMs that were crucial in the Ukraine.

Drones with guns
In addition to surveillance and reconnaissance drones, Ukraine has successfully destroyed tanks, infantry combat vehicles, artillery, and other weapon systems using a variety of armed drones and loiter munitions. The Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey have shown to be quite efficient. The extremely high cost of manufacture and importation is the limiting factor for this class of drones. The less expensive option is loiter ammunition or kamikaze drones.

The US has provided Ukraine with 700 Switchblade, 700 Phoenix Ghost, and other similar drones. A Switchblade costs $10,000, which is less expensive than a Javelin ATGM, which costs $78,000, and a US Reaper drone, which costs $32 million. Costing $5 million even is the Bayraktar TB 2. Additionally, Ukraine has deployed 6,000 inexpensive, commercially available drones like the DJI Mavic 3.

Since 2000, India has predominantly used Israeli Searcher 1 and 2 drones for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). The Heron, an advanced long-range, long-endurance, and high-altitude unarmed drone, came next. The Indian Armed Forces are currently employing 90 Herons.

A small number of Harop Kamikaze drones from Israel have also been imported by the Indian Air Force (IAF), principally for the suppression of adversary air defence systems.

India currently lacks the traditional strategic armed drone, but we have started a project to arm some of the Heron Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) currently in our fleet. Various reports on the $3 billion plan to purchase 30 MQ 9B Predator Sky/Sea Guardian armed drones from the US are contradicting.

The greatest option for the Indian Army is to introduce the significantly less expensive Kamikaze Drones or loiter ammo in huge quantities for anti-tank/equipment/personnel operations, even though long-endurance sophisticated drones like the Predator are required for strategic tasks.

With its software skills, the Indian private sector is best suited to meet this need, and the Ministry of Defence has issued clear instructions for it to go to work. Although there has been a lot of spectacular and conjectured news, no military-grade drones have been deployed as of yet.

The DRDO has been working on many categories of UAVs for the past 20 years. None, though, have advanced to the field trial level.

Personal missiles
The Russian Air Force has practically been driven from the air by MANPADs. The most effective targets for these man-portable, shoulder-fired missiles have been aeroplanes and helicopters. Complex air defence systems, such as the Patriot/THAAD and S 300/400, cost a lot of money and are excellent targets for cruise missiles.

MANPADs are relatively cheap and may swarm the battlefield, covering all weak points. They are also challenging to detect before launch. The US provided 1,400 Stinger missiles, which served as the backbone of Ukrainian air defence.

Modern Russian Igla missiles and a small number of Stinger missiles for Apache attack helicopters are available to the Indian Army. The number of MANPADs, however, is insufficient to have a substantial impact, as it did during the Ukraine War.

It is clear that the Indian Armed Forces suffer from major shortages of third-through-fifth generation ATGMs, armed drones, and MANPADs. It is critical that these systems be created or purchased locally. These weapon systems have been shown to be a battle-winning factor and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

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