As the Indian Army’s hunt for acquiring 1,750 Future Infantry Combat Vehicles (FICVs) continues, the country’s premier defence research agency, the DRDO, has pitched its case for the key project. The FICV is going to be the mainstay of the Indian Army’s mechanised forces.
The Indian Army is keen to get 1,750 FICVs, worth Rs 60,000 crore, which will eventually replace the 1980s-era Soviet-designed BMP-2s currently in use with the 49 battalions of the Mechanised Infantry. These BMPs were manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Medak in Telangana under licence production. And the Army has plans to replace the current BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles by 2025.
According to a top official, the Army is conceiving the project under the strategic partnership route, in which the Indian vendors can collaborate with foreign companies. But the DRDO is pitching to get it done through its Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment, the main laboratory involved in the development of armoured fighting vehicles. DRDO believes that the CVRDE has the core competency in developing the required technology. Notably, the CVRDE, which is based at Avadi in Chennai, is the developer of India’s indigenous Arjun tank.
The key officials of DRDO are having rounds of meetings and giving presentations to the Army and the ministry of defence officials in an attempt to convince them about their capabilities to develop such a platform.
“I believe that the DRDO with the help of Army Design Bureau (ADB) can develop the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle. Once the design is finalised, private industry can be selected as a production agency. Ultimately, private industry will make the tank,” said a senior defence official, while adding that the Army Design Bureau should work in tandem with CVRDE to monitor the development of the new armoured vehicle.
The Army Design Bureau is mandated to be the facilitator for research and development efforts and initiation of procurement of weapons and equipment required by the Indian Army. And it acts as a central repository of technical know-how for the Army and collates operational requirements from the field formations and brings it forward for deliberations with DRDO, OFB, defence public sector units, industry and academia.
Defence scientists maintained as the FICV is the future main battle tank and the DRDO has all the technology under its next-generation main battle tank project, they are hopeful that the Army Design Bureau should join hands with DRDO and both will share their expertise.
“Indirectly, it will be SP route only. I still believe that FICV will come to DRDO, and we are ready with technology. If we get [contract], in another four years, we are confident to deliver the tank to the Army,” says a key DRDO official. It is learnt that several top officials of the mechanised force of the Indian Army are also recommending the FICV should come to the DRDO.
In June, the Army issued a request for information (RFI) under the Make-in-India initiative for acquiring 1,750 FICVs. This was the third attempt in over a decade by the Army as the first formal process was initiated in 2009 by the Mechanised Infantry directorate. The FICV project was first envisaged in the mid-2000s. In 2016, the project had hit a hurdle after a series of complaints by rival competitors over cost issues. And only after the independent expert monitors gave a go-ahead in 2017, did the Army restart the process.
The dispute over payment for the project between the Army and the MoD also delayed the project.
As per the Army’s new RFI, out of the total quantity of FICVs, around 55 per cent is going to be the ‘gun version’ and the balance would be specialist vehicles, which will have mini-drones and kamikaze drones. The Army also wants such vehicles should be equipped with at least a 30mm main gun, anti-tank missiles and other fire power, besides being capable of carrying at least eight soldiers.
But defence officials believe that even if the project gets the go-ahead in the next few months, the induction of the system into the Army may not be possible before six to seven years.