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Army sets ball rolling for biggest-ever arms deal

The generals told a defence industry gathering that the mechanised forces would be boosted on three parallel tracks

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

Army chief Gen Bipin Singh Rawat at a seminar in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI
Army chief Gen Bipin Singh Rawat at a seminar in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI

and a battery of senior generals on Wednesday explained the details of India's biggest-ever weapons acquisition — the ongoing procurement of futuristic tanks and infantry combat vehicles (ICVs), estimated to be worth Rs 80,000-1,00,000 crore each.

Pakistan already feels threatened by India's vast tank strength. This includes three strike corps, each with hundreds of tanks and ICVs. In addition, eight-to-ten tank-heavy "battle groups", drawn from defensive corps, are poised to scythe through Pakistan in a "Cold Start" offensive. While tanks, with their heavy armour protection and huge guns spearhead an advance into enemy territory, tracked ICVs move close behind them, carrying infantrymen to occupy the captured area. The procurement explained by Rawat, which include new tanks and ICVs, would significantly enhance Pakistan's insecurity.

Justifying the build-up, Rawat said: "Tanks are expected to operate on the western front as well as the northern borders [with China]."

Three tracks

The generals told a defence industry gathering that the mechanised forces would be boosted on three parallel tracks. The first is the manufacture of 1,770 advanced, 50-tonne tanks — termed Future Ready Combat Vehicles (FRCVs) — under the "strategic partner" (SP) policy to replace the ageing T-72 fleet. For this, private Indian firms will bid in partnership with global "original equipment manufacturers" (OEMs) to set up a production line in India by 2025-27.

Last Wednesday, the army floated a global "request for information" inviting global OEMs to outline what they would offer India. Simultaneously, the ministry is shortlisting Indian SPs that will bid in partnership with the chosen OEMs. "This process involves identifying a mature, in-service tank in the world, which can be tweaked to meet our requirements," said Lieutenant General M J S Kahlon, the army's planning chief.

While the FRCV will be a derivative of an in-service tank, the "future infantry combat vehicle" (FICV) will be a brand-new, futuristic system. It will be pursued under the "Make" procedure, with the defence ministry funding 90 per cent of the development cost, and the private firm paying 10 per cent. Six firms/consortia have submitted proposals for the FICV, and the MoD must select two. These will design competing FICV prototypes and build an estimated 2,600 of the winning design.
"The FICV and FRCV will be game changers for indigenous defence industry," said the mechanised forces chief, Lieutenant General Ashok Shivane.

Kahlon pointed out that this would be the first time indigenous production would take care of our armoured requirements. "So far, we bought all our armour on a government-to-government basis — from the west till late 1960s and from the Soviet Union and Russia since then."

That dependence forced the army to adapt its warfighting doctrines to platforms that had never been designed with India's tactical needs, geography and manpower in mind. "We bought what was available and adapted our doctrines onto that," rued Kahlon.

Since the FRCV and FICV projects are time-consuming projects, the army will simultaneously upgrade the existing T-72 tank fleet to remain battle-worthy till the new platforms are inducted. Shivane said T-72s would get more powerful engines, day- and night-vision thermal sights, and improved guns and ammunition.
"The chosen vendors would also take care of life cycle management of his equipment, with indigenous solutions coming from him. This would make good operational sense for us and good business sense for the vendors," said Shivane.

The FRCV is intended to carry out roles other than that of a tank. The RFI states it will be the base platform for a range of additional armoured vehicles, including self-propelled artillery and air defence guns, mine trawls, bridge-layer tanks (BLTS), armoured engineering vehicles, etc. 
Looking beyond the heavy, tracked FICV, both Rawat and Kahlon raised the need for a wheeled infantry carrier that could move on roads, and in towns and cities, without damaging infrastructure. "Imagine infantry being able to travel in its own transport, with ballistic protection, wherever it needs to go… say all the way up to Leh," said Kahlon.

First Published: Thu, November 16 2017. 00:47 IST