Delays and Deadlines

Procurement of crucial defence equipment for the Indian armed forces is moving slowly

Palak Gupta

In a bid to modernise armed forces and enhance its combat capabilities, India is likely to spend approximately USD130 billion in the years ahead. The country is already being billed as the third largest defence spender after the US and China according to a report by Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which says New Delhi’s military spending grew by 6.8 per cent to USD71.1 billion in 2019. India’s defence budget stands at USD73.65 billion for the current fiscal year.

Russian Helicopter Ka-226T

India’s military spending has grown due to an increased capital expenditure for procuring a series of defence equipment which include submarines, warships, helicopters, infantry combat vehicles, refuellers, fighters, UAVs among others. There are a plethora of pending proposals including procurement of 2,600 infantry combat vehicles, more than 1,700 future ready combat vehicles for the Indian Army and 114 multirole fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) among others.

Here is a rundown of the procurement status of several weapon systems and defence equipment planned for the three services in the forthcoming years.


Indian Army

Third Generation ATGM: Preferring the domestic route, the Indian Army has initiated a process to order new anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) from the Indian industry–both private and public. The move is seen by defence experts as an attempt to slash down the import expenditure.

The invitation for Expression of Interest (EoI) for procurement of third generation Anti-Tank Guided Missile System for the Indian Army has been floated which first made its appearance on the defence ministry’s website on 7 February 2020. According to the ministry of defence (MoD), the weapon system is required for anti-tank, anti-structure engagements in conventional operations. “A third generation ATGM system will enhance the potential of infantry to counter mechanised threats in select sectors and also anti-structure role. “Induction of the third generation ATGM capability will augment anti-tank deterrence against armour threat on defensive positions and strengthen the anti-tank potential of Infantry battalions in mechanised offensive operations,” the defence ministry said. The proposed ATGM system will replace the second-generation MILAN system of France and KONKURS of Russia.

Presently, the Indian Army has a total projected requirement of approximately 68,000 ATGMs in the next few decades and needs missiles which can hit high-speed moving armoured vehicles without the support of an operator.

The Indian government scrapped the Medium-Range Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) deal with Israel in June 2019. The deal was approved as an ‘emergency purchase’ in April. First, India reduced the tender that Rafael had won for more than 8000 missiles to 210 and then cancelled it altogether.

Future Infantry Combat Vehicles: The Indian Army’s Rs 60,000 crore is stuck in the pipelines as the stakeholders stand at odds for several reasons. The 10-year old project, which aims at procuring 2,600 future infantry combat vehicles (FICVs),  is one of the longest delayed projects.

The FICV project was conceived in October 2009 and the initial plans were to induct it by 2025 which, given the present stalemate, seems unlikely. Currently, India’s ICV fleet includes BMP-2, BMD-2 and BRDM-2 vehicles. The Indian Army has nearly 49 Mechanised Infantry Battalions.

Future Ready Combat Vehicles: The Indian MoD in November 2017 issued Request for Information (RFI) for over 1,700 Future Ready Combat Vehicles (FRCVs) to replace the ageing Soviet-era T-72 fleet. An FRCV is an armoured platform that will be used primarily for the Main Battle Tank (MBT) and is different than the FICV.

According to MoD, the FRCV is planned to be procured under the provisions of the Armoured Fighting Vehicle Segment of the Strategic Partnership route. Under this procurement route, it is mandatory for the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to offer technology transfer and that the platform should have 40 per cent indigenous content (IC).

The global OEM, who have responded to RFI, are as follows: South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem, UK’s BAE Systems, US’ General Dynamics, Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, France’s Nexter, Poland’s Polski Holding Obronny, Russia’s Rosoboronexport, and Ukraine’s Ukrainexport.

The vehicle is supposed to be medium weight (45-50 ton) and with a platform which can operate in various terrains including developed, desert terrain and in high altitude areas across the wide spectrum of conflict. The army expects the induction of these FRCV to take place by 2025-27.

Light Machine Guns: The MoD acquisition wing on 19 March 2020 signed a Rs 880 crore contract with an Israeli firm called Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) for procurement of 16,479 Light Machine Guns under the Fast Track Procedure (FTP) in a bid to modernise Infantry. The contracted Negev 7.62X51 mm LMG is a combat proven weapon and currently used by several countries around the globe.

IWI produces wide ranging products such as the Galil sniper rifle, Uzi submachine gun (in both micro and mini variants) and Tavor assault rifles.

The MoD in a statement said, “This LMG will greatly enhance the lethality and range of a soldier vis-a-vis the presently used weapon. The provisioning of this operationally urgent and very critically needed weapon will boost the confidence of the frontline troops and provide much needed combat power to the armed forces.”

Kalashnikov AK-203: The Indian Army is set to manufacture the Kalashnikov AK 203 rifles at the Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited, a joint venture between India and Russia at Amethi. An expected contract to induct more than seven lakh AK-203 assault rifles, which will be manufactured locally by an India-Russia joint venture (JV), is due. In March 2019, Russia and India inaugurated the plant at Korwa, Amethi. This facility has been set up between the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) from the Indian side and Rosoboronexport and Kalashnikov from the Russian side. The Indian Army will replace the indigenous Indian National Small Arms System (INSAS) rifle with AK 203.

Russian Ka-226T: Russian Ka-226T helicopters, which will be procured by the Indian Army, will substitute Cheetah and Chetak Light Utility Helicopters and are meant for high altitude, surveillance and logistics. Kamov is a light-weight utility helicopter and has a twin-rotor system.

India had signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with Russian Helicopters and Rosoboronexport in October 2016 but a contract still remains to be inked. The signing of the contract between the two countries continues to be delayed because of the differences over transfer of technology (ToT) and Indigenous Content (IC).


Indian Air Force

MMRCA 2:0: In April 2018, a Request for Information (RFI) for procurement of 114 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) was issued under the Indian Strategic Partnership (SP). The procurement deal is approximately worth USD20 billion. Six firms responded to the RFI. Boeing offered F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, SAAB’s Gripen and Russian United Aircraft Corporation’s MiG-35.

The IAF is working on concluding the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for 114 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), after which the request for proposal would be issued.

Notably, in 2018, the government had withdrawn the multi-billion dollar tender for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for which the Dassault Aviation was shortlisted in 2012.

Flight Refuelling Aircraft (RFA): On 25 January 2018 the IAF kickstarted the process of procuring six flight refueler aircraft–the third such attempt. The IAF inducted its first aerial refuelling aircraft in 2003. The IAF currently operates a fleet of six Russian-origin Ilyushin-78 tankers. The Ilyushin IL-78 air-to-air refuelling tanker aircraft is a four-engine tanker principally used for in-flight refuelling.

Over the course of several years, the IAF had already twice failed to induct the mid-air refuelling planes. The previous deals were cancelled due to price issues; Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) and Ilyushin’s II-78 had competed in the past two tenders.

Air to air refuelling, which is also known aerial refuelling, is the process of transferring aviation fuel from a tanker aircraft to the receiving aircraft during flight.

According to industry experts American (Boeing KC-46A), Russian (Il-78) and European (A330 MRTT) military contractors are likely to vie for the upcoming tender for the procurement of Flight Refuelling Aircraft.


Indian Navy

Boeing’s P-8I: India presently operates eight P-8Is with four more in production. These were to be delivered in the first quarter of 2020, however, with Covid-19 pandemic the delivery schedule will be revised. Meanwhile, negotiations for procurement of six additional P-8Is are underway.

“We are proud to support the Indian Navy with the P-8Is. The P-8I has given the Indian Navy a significant edge over other naval forces in the strategically important IOR,” said President, Boeing India, Salil Gupte in an earlier interview to FORCE.

The new deal, signed in 2019, is worth USD3.1 billion and has a mandatory clause of 30 per cent offsets.

According to Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (retd), the future requirement of P-8I may total up to 31. “P-8I has three roles: Maritime patrol, anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare. It can hunt an adversary surface ship and fire Harpoon missiles to destroy it. Similarly, it can hunt a submarine and destroy it using advanced torpedoes. It also has Electronic Warfare and Optical sensors,” he said.

Project-75 India: It was only on 21 January 2020 that the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) finally nominated Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders as Strategic Partners for the Indian Navy’s ambitious Project-75 India submarine building programme. The RFI for the aforementioned project was issued in 2017.

Under the Rs 50,000 crore project, six new stealth submarines will be constructed in collaboration with global OEMs, namely, France’s Naval Group, Spain’s Navantia, Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau (which will participate in the programme through Rosoboronexport), Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) and South Korea’s Daewoo.

Navantia has offered S-80 plus-class submarine; Rubin Design Bureau brings the Amur 1650 submarine to the table; France is offering the Scorpene 2000; TKMS has pitched its HDW class 214 and Daewoo is offering its KSS-III. Navantia organised the first Indian industry event online on 21 April 2020.

Inspector General Nuclear Submarines, Vice Admiral Srikant in an interview given to FORCE in December 2017 said, “The RFI for shortlisting foreign OEMs for the submarine segment was issued in July 2017. Issuance of RFP to shortlisted Strategic Partners is being targeted for mid-2018.”

Project 75-I-class submarine irrefutably is one of the country’s longest delayed defence projects and it is a follow-on of Project 75 Kalvari-class submarines for the Indian Navy. This is the second project under the ministry of defence’s (MoD) Strategic Partnership (SP) model, the other being the procurement of 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH).

Naval Utility Helicopters: The MoD on February 2019 issued an Expression of Interest (EOI) for shortlisting potential Indian strategic partners and foreign manufacturers for procuring 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) for the navy. These are the helicopters which will substitute the vintage, obsolete Chetak helicopters, which belong to the 1960 era.

Under this project, the global OEMs have been mandated to set up dedicated manufacturing line, including design, integration and manufacturing processes for NUH in India and make Indian Manufacturing Line as a global exclusive facility for the NUH platform.

These NUH will be used for search and rescue, casualty evacuation, passenger duties, low intensity maritime operations and even anti-submarine roles such as torpedo drops.

Ninety-five helicopters out of the 111 will be manufactured in India by the selected Indian Strategic Partner. The MoD seeks about 60 per cent indigenisation through the Rs 21,273 crore worth NUH project.

Reportedly, the DAC headed by Rajnath Singh and including the CDS Gen. Bipin Rawat and the three Service Chiefs in January returned the project to the navy with a number of questions. FORCE could not independently verify this claim.

The Indian Navy has shortlisted Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL), Mahindra Defence, Adani Aerospace & Defence and Bharat Forge as the Indian bidders.

The shortlisted OEMs are Airbus Helicopters, Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky and Russian Helicopters, which have offered the AS565 MBe Panther & H145M, S-76D and Ka-226T helicopters respectively for the competition.

Multi Role Helicopters: In February 2020, when US President Trump was on a visit to India, the two countries signed defence deals worth USD3 billion. Few days ahead of the ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to India, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had cleared a USD2.4 billion deal to purchase 24 multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ anti-submarine helicopters for the Indian Navy.

The Romeo Seahawks will be delivered to India by 2021. They will replace the ageing British Westland Sea King helicopters operational in the Indian Navy since 1971. A global tender for the procurement of 24 multirole naval helicopters was floated in August 2017. The acquisition was done on an urgent basis due to increasing requirement. Seahawks can operate for long ranges both from shores and ships and can land on the flight on any Indian naval ship, either corvettes or guided missile destroyers.

Helicopters are one of the pressing requirements of the Indian Navy to fill the existent gaps in the boxes of the force. The tender, floated under the Strategic Partnership Model, pushed for indigenisation and had a larger project of 123 naval multirole helicopters. The foreign OEMs, who had approached India, were Lockheed Martin, Airbus Helicopters and Russian helicopters. The final deal with Lockheed Martin was made under US’ FMS policy.


Call us