India is developing a new air-launched missile capable of knocking out enemy tanks from a stand-off distance of more than 10km, and a crucial test of the weapon will be conducted in two months at a time when the country is locked in border tensions with China in the Ladakh theatre, top officials familiar with the developments said on Wednesday. The indigenous missile — named stand-off anti-tank missile (Sant) — is expected to be mated to the Indian Air Force’s Russian-origin Mi-35 attack helicopters to arm them with the capability to destroy enemy armor from an improved stand-off range, one of the officials cited above said, asking not to be named.
The existing Russian-origin Shturm missile on the Mi-35 can target tanks at a range of 5km. The other weapons on the gunship include rockets of different caliber, 500kg bombs, 12.7mm guns, and a 23mm cannon. Sant — being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) — will be launched from a Mi-35 helicopter gunship for the first time in December, in what is being seen as a developmental milestone.
“Preparations are being made for the maiden test-firing of the missile from a Mi-35 gunship. A series of air-launched tests will follow next year after which the missile will be ready for induction,” said a second official on condition of anonymity, adding that the missile will have lock-on after launch and lock-on before launch capability. A lock-on means the target has been detected and the missile will hit it irrespective of any change in the target’s position. The plan is to test the new missile from the attack helicopter eight to 10 times before it is declared operational by the end of 2021, the second official said.
“An improved stand-off capability — from 5km to 10km — to target tanks will be a good capability enhancement for the Mi-35. If the helicopter can engage enemy armor from a distance of 10km, it is unlikely to take a hit from ground fire,” said former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major (retd). The existing anti-tank missiles developed by DRDO — the Nag and Helina — have an effective range of under 5km. While the Nag missile is launched from a modified infantry combat vehicle (called the Nag missile carrier or Namica) and has a range of 4km, the Helina or helicopter-based Nag is for mounting on the Dhruv advanced light helicopter and can strike targets up to 5km away.
The Sant missile was successfully tested from a ground launcher on Monday off the coast of Odisha — the 13th test-firing of a missile by India in less than two months in the midst of the border stand-off with China and deadlocked talks to reduce tensions along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC). Neither the defense ministry nor DRDO made any public announcement on the October 19 test. The key tests recently conducted by India include the supersonic missile-assisted release of the torpedo (SMART) to target submarines at long ranges, a new version of the nuclear-capable hypersonic Shaurya missile with a range of 750km, and the anti-radiation missile launch to take down enemy radars and surveillance systems.
India is also developing a new class of ultra-modern weapons that can travel six times faster than the speed of sound (Mach 6) and penetrate any missile defense. In early September, DRDO carried out a successful flight test of the hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HSTDV) for the first time from a launch facility off the Odisha coast. Only the United States, Russia, and China have developed technologies to field fast-maneuvering hypersonic missiles that fly at lower altitudes and are extremely hard to track and intercept. India could develop hypersonic cruise missiles powered by air-breathing scramjet engines in about four years. Mach 6 translates into a speed of 7,408 kmph.