Indian Army apes Russia’s pioneering trends in armoured/mechanised warfare
Prasun K. Sengupta
A close examination of the Indian Army’s plans for procuring Future Main Battle Tanks (FMBT) and Future Infantry Combat Vehicles (FICV) reveals that Army HQ has decided to ape the same scientific and military-industrial processes that were adopted by Russia two decades ago for introducing a family of New Generation combat vehicles for the futuristic battlefields.
It was in last November that Indian Army HQ issued Request for Information (RFIs) calling for the procurement of approximately 1,770 new-generation, contemporary combat vehicle platforms in various kit combinations in a phased manner under its ambitious Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) project. The FRCV’s design will form the base platform for both the FBMT (meant for the replacing the existing T-72 family of medium battle tanks) and the FICV, with 2,610 of the latter being required. It is also planned to subsequently develop other need-based family of variants of the tracked FRCV. The FRCV’s FMBT variant will have an all-up combat weight of 50 tonnes, and it will also be required to:
- Provide fire-support to assaulting forces
- Fire while on the move, accurately
- Fire multiple types of ammunition, including anti-armour guided-munitions
- Include capability to destroy enemy battle tanks at ranges higher than the latter can engage, in a time earlier than the latter can fire at and with very high first-round hit/kill probability and acquire targets at a longer range
- Engage low-flying manned and unmanned rotary wing aircraft
- Engage hostile massed armour-led attacks, when part of a defensive layout
The other FRCV variants envisaged include:
- Light Tank for negotiating obstacle-ridden terrain
- FICV with unmanned, remotely controlled turret
- Bridge Layer Tank (BLT)
- Trawl Tank and full-width engineer mine ploughs
- Armoured Recovery Vehicle
- Self-Propelled Base Platform for other combat support arms like field artillery and air-defence artillery
An identical approach has been adopted by Russia and the first firm indications of the kind of futuristic families of armoured vehicles required for the future digitised AirLand battlespace emerged in 2014 when, following 10 years of operations analysis starting in the mid-Nineties and the consequential 10 years of military-industrial R&D work that began in 2005, the Russian Army unveilled its Ob’yekt 148 T-14 Armata FMBT with an unmanned and automated turret, the Ob’yekt 149 T-15 tracked heavy fire-support combat vehicle (FSCV), the Ob’yekt 693 and Ob’yekt 695 Kurganets-25 tracked ICVs, and lastly the 8 x 8 Boomerang VPK-7829 wheeled APC. Just prior to that, the Russia’s Uralvagonzavod JSC had already developed the BMPT-72 FSCV for meeting immediate Russian requirements, which will in future be superceded by the Ob’yekt 149 T-15 tracked Heavy ICV.
The FSCV has today emerged as an irreplaceable element of the combined-arms, armour-heavy integrated battle groups (IBG), since it plays the critical role of supporting the armoured assault team with target acquisition and close-/medium-range fire-support and anti-armour team suppression. It is also highly effective in both rural and urban areas, offering elevations and depression angles for both main weapons and their associated optronic sensors. Without the existence of such FSCVs, the Indian Army’s existing battle tanks like the T-90S, T-72CIA and Arjun Mk.1 would be highly vulnerable to anti-armour ambushes laid by dug-in hostile forces lurking within rural farmhouses of the type prevalent in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province and along the Sialkot and Chicken’s Neck areas.
Both the erstwhile Red Army’s and modern-day Russian Army’s combined arms attacks are akin to a highly orchestrated lethal ballet. It is a ballet built around an artillery schedule where massed tube and rocket artillery are fired in phases and the armour and mechanised artillery are required to advance behind a wall of sizzling shrapnel precisely in accordance with those phases. Battalion-level and below tactics are a series of simple battle drills that are repeated endlessly so that soldiers can perform them automatically and flawlessly when they are frightened, tired, or have just been called out of the reserves after ten years as a civilian. Tactics are rigid and provide predictability — a strong suit for an army that values operational flexibility. Artillery fire-support is key and close by. Tracked self-propelled howitzers accompany the attack and provide direct fire on resisting enemy strong points. Multiple multi-barrel rocket launchers are even used in direct fire against a particularly stubborn enemy. Attack helicopters serve as a very mobile artillery in support of the advance throughout the depths of the tactical battle area. The envisaged enemy is either the armies of NATO or China that are defending in-depth in predictable patterns.
The Russian Army’s futuristic family of combat vehicles has been developed specifically for overcoming the tyranny of the terrain, which tends to worsen the problem of the tactical gap, and in the areas where the tanks can go but they are often separated from the ICVs and both are unable to support each other. Based on their battlefield experiences in Chechnya and Afghanistan, the Russians decided that the tactical gap between heavily armoured vehicles and mechanised infantry is almost inevitable. To ensure the survivability of such vehicles, they have since realised that a new armoured vehicle that was built like a battle tank, but provided mutual close combat support, was required. The new vehicle was also required to provide protection against enemy anti-armour weapons, infantry, strong points, attack helicopters, and fixed wing combat aviation. But most importantly, the new armoured vehicle needed to be an integral part of the armoured unit, but it could not be a modern main battle tank with five turrets and multiple weapons. The Russian answer was the FSCV tank support vehicle. It is not an ICV and neither have the Russians discounted the value of mechanised infantry in the combined arms team. Instead, the Russian Army has clearly recognised that mechanised infantry may not be at the critical point at the critical time.
The BMPT (Beovaya mashina podderzhki tankov) ‘Terminator’ FSCV, which Russia is now offering for export to countries like India as an interim solution, is built on a T-72 or a T-90S tank chassis, so it has the armoured protection, manoeuvrability, and ruggedness to manoeuvre directly with the tank platoon. It has laminated and reactive armour, weighs 47 tonnes and carries a five-man crew. There are several variants. The first has a low-profile turret, housing a 30mm automatic cannon with a co-axial AG-17D grenade launcher, a Kornet-E anti-tank guided-missile, and a 7.62mm machine gun. The second variant has dual 30mm automatic cannon, a co-axial 7.62mm machine gun, two grenade launchers, and four Ataka-T anti-armour guided-missiles with a shaped-charge or thermobaric warhead. A third variant has dual 30mm AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers and Igla-S anti-aircraft guided missiles. The third variant has dual 30mm automatic cannon, four Shturm-SM anti-armour guided-missiles, and two AG-17D 30mm grenade launchers (with a range of 1,700 metres), or 7.62mm machine guns in lateral sponsons. The BMPT is thus designed to stay up with and support T-72 or T-90S main battle tanks and is able to clear the enemy from a city block from a distance of 3km.