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Indian Army Infantry Combat Vehicles Review


The Ukraine war has highlighted significance of infantry accompaniment of tanks on the battlefield thus reinforcing the role of combat teams comprising of mechanized foot soldiers with armour.


The Indian Army has laid emphasis on employment of mechanized infantry since the 1970’s with the concept conceived by Gen KV Krishna Rao, PVSM in 1973 and taken forward by General K Sundarji who raised the Regiment both Army Chiefs. The necessity for the same was first felt after the 1965 War.


Today the Mechanised Infantry role is significant providing close in support to advancing tank columns facing resistance at strong points. Importantly Indian Army has expanded the role of mechanized infantry which operates in the High Altitude Areas of Ladakh and Sikkim, amphibious, heliborne and airborne operations.


Modernisation of the Mechanised Infantry is principally related to improving the current generation ICVs and introduction of a futuristic vehicle.


Infantry Combat Vehicles

Indian Mechanised infantry employs the BMP Sarath Infantry Combat Vehicle based on the BMP II. A Report in The Wire by noted defence correspondent Rahul Bedi has indicated that 1700 of these are presently operational of the 2691 acquired by the Indian Army.


Upgradation of a host of these is envisaged by Indian companies. Support from Russian vendors can be anticipated and thus will have to be worked out through the sanctions maze.

India is looking for a new infantry fighting vehicle as well since 2009 but not much progress has been made despite over a decade and tweaking the project four times.


Here is a review of the same.


The FICV – 2009 Onwards - Striving for Over Decade?


Indian Army’s Director General of Mechanised Forces has initiated the projects for replacement Sarath – the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) for the first time in 2009.


The FICV for the Indian Army represents the most ambitious Make in India (MII) project so far with complete designing, development, production and life cycle support to be the responsibility of the selected company.


The AON (Acceptance of Necessity) first issued in Oct 2009, under DPP 2008 was for 2610 combat vehicles.


Later Expression of Interest were issued in 2010 and again in 2015.


Though planned under the provisions of the Defence Procurement Procedure 2008 the underlying MII component is evident with principle agencies for development to be selected from the ten to whom the Expression of Interest (EOI) was issued in July 2015.


These included some of the premium private sector companies - Larsen & Toubro (L&T); Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division); Tata Motors; Mahindra & Mahindra; Bharat Forge; Pipavav Defence; Rolta India; Punj Lloyd; Titagarh Wagons and the government owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB).


The complexity of the project and the criteria laid down in the EOI entails that these companies formed consortia to enable participation in the competition. While the OFB has been given a free pass as per the Business Standard, two of the nine private security companies will be finally selected for the project.


Business Standard reported that Tata Motors would be bidding along with Bharat Forge with a technology partnership with General Dynamics (GD) maker of the US Army's famous M-1 Abrams tank; and Stryker ICV. Tata Power (SED) will bid on its own whereas L&T and Mahindras are planning a joint bid with technology from UK-based BAE Systems.


The OFB is likely to partner with Israeli firms who have developed the Merkava and may be the dark horse given that it does not have to compete in the first stage for selection of the Development Agency.


After experience of the previous EOI in 2012 which did not include the criteria for selection of the DA, Ministry of Defence has now issued details of the same in four categories, Commercial Assessment, Technical Capability Assessment, Critical Technology Assessment and Technical Specification Assessment.


Outlining some of the key characteristics the FICV is expected to have advanced operational capabilities with state of the art technologies for operations in plain and desert terrain and will comprise of a family of variants. The trial evaluation will therefore be carried out in the plains and the desert sectors.


The tracked vehicle is expected to have an amphibious Capability with full combat load to be able to carry a crew of three and a stick of minimum eight personnel with combat loads. Transportability for tactical, operational and strategic mobility is anticipated.


The principle weapon system is likely to be a fourth generation fire and forget Anti Tank Guided Missile with a range of over 4000 m with Lock on Before Launch (LOBL) or Lock on After Launch (LOAL) capabilities. The selected vendor is likely to be tested in terms of ability to provide technology for the Engine, Armoured protection, Gun and munition, transmission and steering and running gear.


Revised RFI in 2021


In June 2021 the Indian Army issued a fresh Request for Information (RFI) for FICV. These vehicles are going to be the mainstay of the mechanized forces for a long time for 1750 FICV at Rs 60,000 crore.


55 percent will be fighting Version and balance would be Specialist Vehicles to support the forces. The requirement is to deliver 75-100 vehicles per year.


As per a report of June 2022, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing two Advanced Armoured Platform (Tracked) (AAP-Tr) vehicles with the Vehicles Research & Development Establishment (VRDE) taking the lead in tandem with Tata Motors, Larsen & Toubro, Mahindra, Bharat Forge and others.


A parallel project by Combat Vehicles Research & Development Establishment (CVRDE) is also said to be in the offing with Ashok Leyland as the development and production partner for 600hp engine designed to power vehicles such as FICVs.


Conclusion


With the War in Ukraine likely to place constraints on the Russian defence industry due to US and Western sanctions, upgradation and modernization of FICVs is expected to be a major challenge.


Increasing the pace of the FICV project needs consideration at the earliest by the Directorate General Mechanised Forces and the Army procurement directorate.


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