Green Light at Last

OFB and BEL will carry out the upgrades on 693 BMP-2s of the Indian Army

Prasun K. Sengupta

The Indian Army’s long-overdue 'deep upgrade' of its fleet of 14.3-tonne BMP-2 ‘Sarath’ tracked infantry combat vehicles (ICV) received the green light from the ministry of defence (MoD) early last month when the MoD declared that its Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) had been nominated for being awarded the Rs 2,400 crore contract for upgrading an initial 693 BMP-2s.

It may be recalled that 700 BMP-2s were ordered off-the-shelf in 1984 from the Soviet Union and were delivered by Kurganmashzavod JSC between 1987 and 1991. An additional 1,000 BMP-2s were ordered in 1985, these being licence-produced in India between 1992 and 2003 at the OFB’s Medak-based facility in Telengana. Yet another 123 BMP-2K ICVs were ordered in 2006 from Russia and were delivered between 2007 and 2008. Another 289 VMP-2Ks — ordered in 2009 and 2011 — are now being delivered by OFB Medak. Finally, in October 2014, the MoD gave nod to OFB Medak to produce 362 more BMP-2s, including 116 NAMICA vehicles.

The Indian Army presently possesses 26 mechanised infantry battalions equipped with BMP-2s, and plans for five more to be raised. Against the authorisation of 2,827 and 323 BMP-2s respectively, the Mechanised Infantry and the Corps of Electrical & Mechanical Engineers are holding only 2,521 and 170 vehicles in various versions that include the BMP-2 ICV, the armoured amphibious dozer, armoured engineering and recovery vehicle, armoured ambulance, CBRN recce vehicle, carrier command post vehicle, carrier mortar tracked vehicle (198 units), and communications vehicle.

Of these, only 53 per cent of the BMP-2s were available for use by the Indian Army as of December 2015, meaning there is a shortage of 47 per cent in the holdings of BMP vehicles. Furthermore, against a production capacity of 600 BMP-2s (100 per year for a six-year period) OFB Medak has been able to produce only 265 vehicles during the last six years, resulting in a shortfall of 55 per cent of assessed capacity. Out of the total number of 2,691 BMP-2s in all versions being presently held, 1,025 of them are due for overhaul since 2015. Consequently, only 1,666 vehicles are effectively available, which means that only 53 per cent of the authorised vehicles are available for use.

The period between October 2015 and January 2017 saw a bizarre process being played out that has now come back full circle to the point where it all originally started. On 17 October 2014, the Indian Army HQ’s Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF) had issued a Request for Information (RFI) for the comprehensive upgrade for 2,600 BMP-2s. This was followed by another RFI issued on 2 March 2016 that invited proposals for upgrading the fire-control system (FCS) of the BMP-2s. Then came yet another RFI — issued on 14 March 2016 — that invited proposals for upgrading the power-packs of the BMP-2s.

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