DRDO successfully test-fires indigenously developed anti-tank guided missile systems from an airborne platform

Published : February 20, 2021 17:16 IST

Helina ATGM being fired from a Rudra helicopter in Pokhran on February 19. Photo: DRDO

In a major boost to indigenisation in the defence sector, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Indian Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) research and development arm, successfully test-fired its indigenously developed anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) systems from an airborne platform on February 19. The joint user trials for Helina, the Army version of the anti-tank guided missile, and Dhruvastra, the Air Force version of the missile, were carried out from the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) manufactured Rudra Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) platform at the Indian military’s test range at Pokhran in the Thar desert. Four Helina ATGMs were launched to evaluate their capabilities in the minimum and maximum range of seven km.

Both the Helina and Dhruvastra ATGMs are improved and advanced air-launched variants of the DRDO-developed Nag ATGM. To be used from helicopters, the basic technology has been borrowed from the Nag ATGM, which was developed in 2008. While the Nag is for use by mechanised infantry units against tanks and is launched from a tracked, amphibious, armored “missile-carrier” vehicle mounted on a Russian BMP chassis known as NAMICA (Nag Missile Carrier), the Helina and the Dhruvastra will be fitted on the Rudra ALH, the HAL designed and manufactured multi-role attack light combat helicopter.

Last September, India had successfully carried out the final trials of the Nag ATGM with a warhead. The NAG missile is a third-generation ATGM which has top-attack capabilities that can effectively engage and destroy all known enemy tanks. After the successful trials, the weapon system was inducted into mechanised infantry units of the Indian Army. The Army has for long been looking for third generation ATGMs with a strike range of over 2.5 km with fire-and-forget capabilities to take down advancing enemy tanks and other armoured vehicles. The MoD had, in 2018, cleared the acquisition of 300 Nag missiles and 25 NAMICAs for the Indian Army.

The DRDO has also been working on a portable variant of the Nag, designated as the man-portable anti-tank guided missile (MPATGM) with an engagement range of about 2.5 km.

The Helina and Dhruvastra are also third generation, Lock on Before Launch (LOBL), fire-and-forget ATGMs that can engage targets both in direct hit mode as well as top attack mode. One of the most advanced anti-tank operations in the world, the missile system has all-weather day and night capability and can defeat battle tanks with conventional armour as well as with explosive reactive armour. DRDO indicated that both the Helina and the Dhruvastra are ready for induction into the Armed Forces.

K. Tamilmani, a former Director General of the DRDO who had been closely associated with the initial flight evaluations of the Helina and the Dhruvastra from the ALH, told Frontline that the launch was a “very significant achievement”. Said Tamilmani: “Initially we could achieve only a five-km range since we did not have any seeker beyond this range for lock-on before launch. But the Army was insistent on a seven-km range and proceeded on a global search for it. But they could not procure it globally since there was no ATGM with a seven-km range readily available.”

This necessitated the stepping in of two DRDO’s laboratories, the DRDL Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) and the Research Centre Imarat (RCI). While the DRDL initiated development of a seven-km version of the two missiles, a seeker for this extended range was developed by the RCI. Both were successful. Said Tamilmani: “India now has an indigenous seven-km range ATGM. And there is tremendous potential for this ATGM to be exported.”

Official sources told Frontline that the trials could have been speeded up but for the fact that no Rudra ALHs were available to carry out the trials and because the firing range was busy with other trials.

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