Spike or Javelin? India Still Undecided on a Billion Dollar Missile Buy


The Indian Army is planning to equip its ground forces with thousands of anti-tank missiles to be built in India. The Indian military considers two options, both of them exclusive – the FGM-148 Javelin, proposed under a Government-to-Government (G2G) program via U.S. Foreign Military Sale (FMS), and the Spike MR, proposed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, being the only bidder in an international tender, which specified characteristics and specifications only the Israeli company could meet.

India Plans to buy thousands of Israeli Spike missile to equip its armored infantry fighting vehicles. Photo: RAFAEL
The Indian MOD is still undecided on which missile will replace its current Milan 2. The U.S. is offering the FGM-148 Javelin as part of a Foreign Military Sale program. Photo: Raytheon

The Indian Army plans to install the missiles on infantry combat vehicles currently carrying locally produced AT-5 or Milan missiles.

The Indian Ministry of Defense plans to order 321 launchers, and 8,356 missiles, plus 15 training simulators in a multi-phase arms package worth over one billion US$. Two options are currently on the table – the U.S. Javelin and the Israeli Spike MR.

The current decision by the Indian authorities clears the way for an official selection of Rafael as a preferred supplier of the missile but does not guarantee winning the order, since as a single supplier a company is most exposed to procedural and bureaucratic objections that are likely to delay the program, enabling competitors to gain pressure in hope for a wind change at the Indian MOD. Overall, a single supplier status is often approved for short term programs, justified by rapidly addressing urgent operational requirements. (An examplem is the recent French acquisition of Javelin missiles, to equip its units in Afghanistan.)

Recent news reports (Defense News 24 June, 2010 and 24 March, 2011) claimed both companies have won the program. Both are premature, and, technically, both can be correct, as the Indians have not made their selection yet. Both programs are proceeding in parallel channels; each has its own advantages and obstacles. Eventually, only one channel will be selected – either the open bid contract or the G2G path. The later means the work share Indian companies will get would be minimal (unless Lockheed Martin and Raytheon will be authorized by the U.S. government to outsource Javelin work to India, a procedure that hasn’t been approved yet). In addition to limited local production will not be possible, as the procurement would be made through the U.S. Army channels and, as such, is likely to be more expensive than the Israeli alternative. On the positive side, the G2G path is less susceptible to public scrutiny and bureaucratic obstacles, and therefore, could be available in short term.

The open selection means the process will be longer, yet offer much more Indian industrial involvement, technology transfer, and local production, in addition to the benefit of offset, as mandated by the Indian government.

Rafael being the only bidder in this tender, the Indian Army had to obtain a special permit to sign a deal on the basis of a tender with just one potential vendor. While technology transfer is a big issue in India, another reason for the absence of competitors was the Indian insistence on unique weapons performance – the Indians demanded that the missiles will enable “active-passive fire-and-forget guidance system”, which only Rafael can offer. Off the shelf third generation (3G) missiles are employing passive sensors to lock on the target before launch, and perform ‘fire and forget’ engagement. At present, only the Spike can offer ‘active passive 3G fire and forget’ – the ability for the user to correct the missile’s aiming in flight, as it closes in on the target, thus offering the ‘active’ element of the engagement.

While the Indian Army is currently interested in the medium range version of Spike, other requirements also include will longer range guided weapons which could offer the Spike an advantage in establishing a common logistics, training and support.

As industrial participation and technology transfer, if Rafael eventually wins the order, the Indians will get the first deliveries of missiles from Israel but Rafael is likely to shift production to India, as it successfully have done in other markets, some of the recent examples include Poland and Spain. In India, Rafael is likely to work with Bharat Dynamics Ltd., an Indian government-owned company specialized in missile development and production. In addition to missile assembly, India could produce most of the system, particularly if Rafael is successful in negotiating the joint venture it plans with Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), in establishing a private, India based company to produce missile seekers for air/air and surface/air missiles. This JV could also address the Spike’s EO seekers.