Indian Army and DRDO co-operate to boost tank-killer Nag missile - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 14 July 2012

Indian Army and DRDO co-operate to boost tank-killer Nag missile

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th July 12

The defence ministry’s (MoD’s) ambitious project to develop a world-class tank-killer missile has run into unanticipated trouble. But, encouragingly, instead of the customary blame game between the army and the development agency --- the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) --- there is cooperation and a joint effort to overcome the problem.

The problem with the DRDO’s anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), christened the Nag (Hindi for cobra), is its range. For most of the day and night, the Nag unerringly strikes its targets out to 4 kilometres, the range that the army demands. But in extreme heat, especially in summer afternoons in the desert, the missile cannot pick up targets beyond 2.5 kilometres. Once the temperature cools, the Nag’s seeker differentiates again between the target and surrounding objects (or ground clutter).

Dr Avinash Chander, the DRDO’s missile chief, told Business Standard, “Even in the worst conditions, the Nag is 100% accurate out to 2.5 kilometres. Except when the temperature is really high, it is also accurate at 4 kilometres. By the year-end, we will develop a seeker with higher resolution, which will be accurate at 4 kilometres in any conditions.”

The DRDO’s unusual frankness in admitting a problem has been matched by the army’s unusual helpfulness in working through it. The army has decided to buy 13 Nag carriers (NAMICA, being developed by BEL and L&T), and 443 Nag missiles in the current state. These will be deployed in areas like Punjab, where close-set villages, groves and electricity transmission cables seldom permit visibility beyond 2.5 kilometres. When the DRDO demonstrates improved performance with a better seeker, a larger order will follow.

“This is a top-class missile in every respect except for this problem. While we must have a range of 4 kilometres for the open desert, the reduced 2.5 kilometre range is acceptable for developed terrain like the Punjab. We will buy 13 Nag carriers and use these to familiarise ourselves with the system. And, in Phase II, we will order the 4 kilometre missile in bulk quantities,” says a top general who decides such contracts.

For the army, the delay is a disappointment. Indian infantry formations badly need a potent ATGM to handle Pakistani tank forces that now bristle with capable Ukrainian T-80 and Chinese T-85 tanks. As far back as 2010-11, the army had budgeted Rs 335 crore for the first batch of Nag missiles.

The DRDO, for whom this is a prestigious project, says that the Hyderabad-based laboratory, Research Centre Imarat (RCI), will soon develop a seeker that can work through the hottest desert temperatures. This will feature an improved Focal Plane Array (FPA), a detector on the missile tip that picks up the target’s infrared signal. Since the DRDO’s own FPA programme is still at an early stage, the Nag’s improved FPA will be supplied by French company, Sofradir. RCI will integrate Sofradir’s FPA into an improved Nag seeker.

A 3rd generation ATGM like the Nag is amongst the most complex land systems. Here’s how it works. The Nag missile pilots scan the battlefield for enemy tanks with thermal imaging telescopes, which pick up targets by day or night with equal facility. Having picking up an enemy tank, the Nag pilot locks the seeker onto it. Immediately, a digital snapshot of the target is taken, which serves as a reference image. As the Nag streaks towards the target, at 230 metres per second, the seeker takes repeated snapshots of the target; each one is compared with the previous image. The deviations are translated into corrections to the Nag’s control fins, which autonomously steer the missile onto the target. This is termed a “fire-and-forget” missile, relieving the pilot of the need to expose himself to enemy fire after launching the missile.

The world has just a handful of “fire-and-forget” missiles, such as the FGM-148 Javelin, built by American companies, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon; and the Spike, built by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The Javelin and the Spike are lighter, “man-portable” missiles that can be carried by an infantry soldier; the Nag is a heavier and more powerful missile that operates from vehicles and helicopters.

But the Nag’s weight is turning out to be a problem. The army is unhappy that the missile has weighed in at 40 kilos, instead of the 30-35 kilos that the army had specified. This, senior officers say, makes reloading difficult. The DRDO has been asked to make the Nag lighter.

The DRDO, however, argues that weight should not be an issue since the Nag is carried on, and fired from, a vehicle, the NAMICA. Says Avinash Chander, “I don’t see why an extra 5 kg should be an issue. If the Nag were a man-portable, shoulder-fired missile, weight would be crucial. But we will bring the weight down gradually. The Mark II Nag will be about 35 kilos, and we will continue to reduce weight.

Acceptance of the Nag missile into service will conclude the DRDO’s long-delayed, but eventually successful, Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). Initiated in 1983 by then DRDO boss, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the IGMDP set out to develop five missiles: the Agni and Prithvi ballistic missiles; the Akash and Trishul anti-aircraft missiles; and the Nag ATGM. Only the Trishul will have failed to enter frontline military service.


  1. what a wonder!!! The Nag short coming has become open. Atlast the customer and the supplier are cooperating and have come together. good sign!!!!

  2. This is the way.
    No weapon is perfect from the start and the army's insistence of the product being perfect from day 1 hampers the indigenous effort.

    Once a weapon has attained a basic level of performance,it must be inducted and the the system be allowed to evolve and mature in service.
    An example is the US,which constantly updates it weapons in 'blocks'.

  3. The moment I read "nag missile" in the title I thought "too fukin huge".

    A man portable ATGM will have less visibility compared to a vehicle.

    It's funny that a mobile maker like samsung will "miniaturize" its devices within a set target if it is what it takes to stay competitive in the market. Our DRDO employees have no such tension. If the DRDO chief had run the org like his own dukaan, i'm sure a lot of ear twisting and free kicks to the kundi would have taken place.

    Chief saab ka kudh ka dukaan(DRDO) nahi hai na toh usko kuch farak nahi padta hai. This is the difference between private and public.

  4. Javelin missile's seeker has difficulty in locking on to it's target in much more cooler climates of Europe. So how on earth our dear generals of the great Indian Army think that we can make a seeker that can so easily defy the laws of Physics? In open deserts you can see the tanks from miles out and can easily engage them using Helos, Air Force, Mortars or Artillery. Even an older SACLOS missiles like Konkurs can be superbly effective in such flat open terrain. I will not hold my breath for the improved missile system, eventually the army will reject all the homegrown systems and import from abroad. Good luck fellas, you are in for a ride.

  5. Well this is very good move for Army, Drdo & for our economy. Hopefully, from now onwards end user and OEM will cooperate and develop indigenious technologies in a timely & cost effective manner. This way, we can create more jobs for our own people and can also defend our selves with out depending on others.

    Very good news and a good practice,

  6. Well is DRDO capable of making more than food packets and all weather toilets ?. Arjun tank, Nag, LCA, IJT, anti /c guns all cant have the same end result.
    Are we getting emotionally blackmailed by the term' indegenisation' into wasting precious money and even more precious time. What hapens if theres a war today?.. make the army fight with outdated or no armament or go on a sudden shopping spree, again culminating in death and training of a new equipment during a war. The nag story has been roaming for more than 20 years now and many times as usual with the lies of success that DRDO does so well.

    I mean what real products of DRDO are in real production and use,?

  7. @Sachi WRT,
    There is requirement of different kinds of ATGMs. A man portable ATGM has its specific uses and advantages particularly in a defensive role. However, dismounted operators are much more vulnerable to suppression fire and they have difficulties in keeping up with a fast moving armored or mechanized column.In this regard vehicle or airborne mounted missiles are better.The army need an optimum mix of all these types.One inducted, the missile will evolve.

  8. "The DRDO’s unusual frankness in admitting a problem has been matched by the army’s unusual helpfulness in working through it. "

    Unusual and refreshing change indeed

  9. While it is good to hear that the Army and the DRDO are finally co-operating to boost the Nag missile program and that the Army has been more accommodating in its partnership with the DRDO, could this change in attitude be also reflected by the disclosures of the former General- General VK Singh of the lack of tank fighting ammunition with the Army, or the lack of night fighting and obsolete air defence capabilities of the Indian Army? or for that matter the Arjun tank has not been lapped up by the Army as much as the DRDO would like them to, given China and Pakistan's buildup and given the lack of adequate armoured build up response from the Indian side in the sense of induction of a suitable number of tanks- whether Arjun or the T-90s? It has been reported that the USA has clarified that it has no issues with India planning to buy whatever number of Javelin anti tank missiles, however the agreement and obviously the inductions have not yet happened. Could the aforementioned factors be playing a contributory role in the Army's supposed change in attitude towards its partnership with the DRDO? I feel that the Arjun Mk2 tank, going by this logic is also going come out with "flying colors' in the ongoing trials, and that the Army is going to be more accommodating of the tank now. What your thoughts on these issues? Thanks & Regards, Shubham

  10. 4 out of 5 missile projects reaching induction is 80% success rate. Not bad for a "third world" country, eh? Unlike the so many arm chair marshals posting on this site, even the worst critics of the DRDO cannot deny them this achievement. And before they say 30 years to reach here, let me remind them of the tech base that we had in 1983 or for that matter what we have in 2012 - still decades behind the world leaders.

  11. time for procurement and development can be reduced if IA allows old hands to be re-posted to WE. Wonder why officers who have served earlier in WE never get posted to the directorate again?

  12. This is an excellent example of the mutual cooperation. Keep it up.

    "For most of the day and night, the Nag unerringly strikes its targets out to 4 kilometres, the range that the army demands. But in extreme heat, especially in summer afternoons in the desert, the missile cannot pick up targets beyond 2.5 kilometres. Once the temperature cools, the Nag’s seeker differentiates again between the target and surrounding objects (or ground clutter)."

    The above seems to be a rare condition for fighting of the war limited only to Rajasthan, but even then this bottleneck may need to be removed.

  13. Pakistanies will commence attack at 12O'clock during summers in deserts. Then what will happen? You will kill them in the evening or during night !

    A ch!nk in armour is a Ch!nk in armour!

  14. @anon 18th july 2012 12:32: dont worry IAF is there. for that scenario we have CBU 105 smart bombs. just 1 of which can obliterate multiple threats on the ground. Chink in armour is there but that does not mean that there are no alternatives available.

  15. Heartening news about the Nag.
    This missile,to my mind is more likely to be used than the Agni and so is more "important".
    Great that DRDO and the Army have co-operated.The "problems" are not unusual for a new weapon of this class and unlikely to matter. Why? One notices the Armies very wisely are careful to avoid full blown warfare until the cool season comes in!Also at 4 kilometer a camouflaged tank would be pretty difficult to acquire visually ( 1 millirad to 0,5 millirad subtension!)It would also be wonderful on The China Front busting "saangars" and such like. The best is the fact that both the customer and vendor are talking to each other.

  16. Regarding the weight some paring down is obviously possible but it should not be a "stopper" of a problem. Since Roman times the PBI (poor bloody Infantry) has been humping packs of around 40 kilos and this is a re-loading problem. Perhaps some Mechanical handling equipment like the ones used to load drop tanks on Hunters could be adapted as an interim measure.


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