As Netanyahu arrives, will Spike missile go the Rafale fighter route? - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 14 January 2018

As Netanyahu arrives, will Spike missile go the Rafale fighter route?

Better missiles like Javelin (above) and MPP are now available, but only Spike has undergone trials

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Jan 18

The defence industry is watching to see if the Indian government will go the same way with the Spike anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) as it did with the Rafale fighter – which is to abandon half-way a competitive global tender and instead conclude a government-to-government contract, for smaller numbers, using the logic of “operational necessity”.

Two weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s five-day visit to India which began on Sunday, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems – the Israeli firm that makes the Spike missile –announced it had “received an official statement from the Indian Ministry of Defense on the cancellation of the Spike missile deal”.

The tender that New Delhi cancelled was for 321 ATGM launchers and 8,356 missiles, worth an estimated $500 million (Rs 3,200 crore). Rafael was required to dicharge offsets worth 30 per cent of that value and to transfer technology to Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) for building an estimated 30,000 more Spike missiles in India.

The tender was cancelled, as revealed by army chief General Bipin Rawat on Friday, because the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is going to develop and supply an indigenous ATGM. Since the DRDO missile would be manufactured in numbers only by 2021-22, Rawat’s concern is: “How do we bridge the gap between now and 2021-22?”

To do so, the army has recommended buying “lesser numbers” of a foreign ATGM, which could by default be Spike. Rawat says: “Whether it is going to be Spike or somebody else [we don’t know]. But we have tested the Spike; we haven’t tested the other missiles. So if we have to go in for a faster procurement, we may have to go in for a G2G (government-to-government buy). That is the issue being discussed.”

Defence industry experts say, if India restricts itself to Spike in bridging this gap, it will deny itself the opportunity to buy more advanced and capable ATGMs that were unavailable in 2010, when New Delhi issued a global tender. These are: the American FGM-148 Javelin, and the Missile Moyenne Portee (MPP, or “medium range missile”), built by MBDA of France.

The Javelin, produced by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, is a true “fire-and-forget” missile, whose inbuilt seeker locks onto targets up to 4,000 metres away, steering the missile autonomously and allowing an infantryman to quickly take cover after firing the missile. This capability is also referred to as “lock-on-before-launch”.

In contrast, the Spike, which has a range of only 2,500 metres, requires the infantryman to remain exposed for almost 30 seconds, while he guides the flying missile towards the target.

The MPP, like the Javelin, it is a true “fire-and-forget” missile with a range of 4,000 metres.

Furthermore, the Spike trails an optic-fibre cable behind it as it flies towards the target, through which guidance commands are given to the missile. This cable can snag on trees and power lines, disrupting the missile. In contrast, the Javelin and the MPP missiles trail no cable, since the missile is guided by on-board software.

The Javelin and MPP are also superior in their capability for “soft launch”. When a missile is fired, a gas canister propels it forward for the first ten metres, after which its on-board rocket motor ignites. This allows the missile to be launched from closed spaces, like bunkers. In earlier missiles like the Spike, the rocket motor ignites on launch, creating a “back blast” that would destroy a bunker or room from which it is launched.

The army’s motivation is clear: it wants an ATGM without delay, to equip its 350-plus infantry battalions. Senior generals say they would choose the less capable Spike missile now, over years more spent in evaluating the Javelin and the MPP.

When asked if this meant that a sluggish procurement process was denying the army state-of-the-art and potentially cheaper weapons systems, the general nodded agreement.

Netanyahu’s 130-member delegation includes the chief of Rafael Advanced Defence Systems.


  1. Fantastic Journey14 January 2018 at 22:28

    There are numerous errors and misleading information in this article about Spike missiles and modes of operation of such systems.
    1. Range of Spike missile depends on the model and varies from 500m for Spike-SR to 25 km for Spike-NLOS! India elected to buy Spike- MR with range of 2.5 km but 4km range ER and 8km LR models are also available. Both MR and ER are man portable.

    2. Targeting: Spike uses uncooled thermal imaging while Javelin uses cooled thermal sight. Uncooked sight can be used right away while cooled sight need cooling for upto a minute before missile can be used. Therefore, Spike can be in action much faster than Javelin. It is Javelin operator that has to remain exposed before its thermal unit is ready to use not other way around.

    3. Guidance: Your information about fire and forget modes is erroneous. Both Javelin and Spike are true "Fire and forget" weapons with lock on before launch. Both use electro-optical tracking without any interference from the operator. Spike has an additional option to use fiber optic (if desired) to "fire and update" but that's optional. It is a game changer ability that Javelin does not possess.

  2. Agree that we need to question whether G2G is indeed the right way to go in place of a competition for acquiring non-strategic equipment where multiple alternatives exist.

    However it appears in proving the point you have needlessly run down the Spike's technical capabilities.

    For those new to the subject Spike is a family of systems(SR,MR,LR,LR II,ER,NLOS), with differences in ranges and operational modes.
    Out of these the MR,LR and LR II are suitable as man-portable ATGMS for the Infantry.
    Respective advertised ranges for the same are 2.5 km,4/5 km and 5.5 km.
    Guidance modes are:
    MR> electro optical (fire and forget)
    LR> electro optical + Fibreoptic cable (fire and forget or fire observe and update)
    LRII> electro optical + RF datalink + IMU (fire and forget or fire observe and update or third party target allocation).

    Similarly for MMP the range is 4 km and guidance modes are: electro optical + Fibreoptic cable (fire and forget or fire observe and update or third party target allocation).

    Javelin on the other hand has range 2.5/4.75km(earlier and newer version) with guidance mode electro optical (fire and forget).

    All the above can be fired from enclosure.

    In the prior competiton the army had looked at earlier version of Javelin and Spike MR and settled on Spike MR.
    If needed to recompete then based on range and modes on paper the relevant competitors would be
    > Javelin and Spike MR. (guidance modes comparable and Javelin in the new version exceeds in range terms)
    > Spike LR/LR II and MMP. (guidance modes comparable with rf datalink in Spike LRII and 5.5 km range placing this ahead in the lot)

    If G2G then quick field evaluation of Spike LRII and/or MMP, these two being the latest available in technological terms.

    G2G acquisitions reduce acquistion timelines,cut through byzantine procurement policies, limit corruption and can be used as a lever in foreign relations.
    However all is not rosy with the G2G route as it can lead to financial losses as no price discovery or competition;also the previously alluded foreign relation levers might push an acquisition disregarding merit.

    Ajai ji the question of G2G versus competitive bidding is a complex one and merits a significant examination at length specifically in the Indian context.

  3. The whole caboolah cannot be speeded up? If India cannot get things delivered in a timely manner and if the Indian Army becomes a reflection of the wider Indian society (sadly the separation over the years narrows) then the whole setup will collapse under pressure of any war.
    I mean If the nation cannot deliver on the basic things, how on Earth will it be able to deliver a successful future war?

  4. Spike is ridiculous, the more we know about it. The optic fibre trail and the back blast - omg! I thought the army had tested the Javelin when they brought it along during Yudh Abyas. The procurement guys and process is beyond belief. God save the nation. Hare Krishna.

  5. The concerns on abandoning a Global Tender for a costlier G2G option are well placed however the details given in this post are factually incorrect.

    The RFP issued by the Indian Army was for a 3rd Generation Infantry ATGM. By definition, 3rd Generation ATGM is ‘fire and forget’, and the qualified missile is a ‘fire and forget’ missile. It is totally incorrect to say that the qualified missile has to be guided to the target leading to a 30 second exposure. The fact is that the firer can disengage and move immediately after firing, and the missile seeker autonomously guides the missile to the target.

    The Spike MR missile that cleared the extensive trials by the Army does not have any fibre optic attached. The version of the Spike that has a fibre optic are the Spike LR and Spike ER which are beyond the scope of discussion.

    Not withstanding the above facts, the fibre optic does not in any way impede the ability to lock on before launch or disrupt the flight of the missile. The advantage of a fibre optic is that provides the firer the ability to update a target. It offers him the flexibility of changing targets mid-flight. If there is no change in the target, the missile will autonomously guide itself to the target locked on. In operational terms, this can be a huge advantage, as even a turret down target can be engaged. The fibre optic does not guide the missile as mentioned in the blog. Guidance is done by the on-board seeker. Incidentally, the MMP also comes with a fibre optic, contrary to what has been written in the blog.

    The third incorrect fact in the blog is the issue of the soft launch. A soft launch is achieved by having separate eject and main motors, as are available in the Spike.

    In terms of operational requirement, possibly all three missiles will meet the needs of the Indian Army, each having their own pros and cons. But the fact remains that there is a void, and this void can be filled fastest by a system which has been trial evaluated. The MMP has just been introduced into service in the French Army. As far as the Javelin is concerned, I suppose they did not even bother to respond to the RFP when it was issued in 2010. Incidentally, at that time, Javelin only claimed a range of 2500m. Had they responded then, the stringent DPP process would not have allowed them to offer a newer version. Similarly, it can be safely assumed that Spike itself would have newer and better versions 8 years down the line since 2010. The Indian Army, very correctly, should prefer what they have evaluated on the ground, and then think of upgrades. After all, till then, a range of 4000m will just remain a claim.

  6. It Is ok to publish the blog a day or two late. Please get your facts absolutely right. Sure Indian armed forces may not be proud of an Alumni like you !'


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