Despite several revisions, army’s fighting vehicles programme continues to crawl
The Indian Army has been looking to buy Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs). The purpose of these vehicles is to provide direct fire support. The difference between APCs and ICVs is that the former is designed to transport troops and is generally for self-defence rather than for offence. The personnel travelling inside the vehicle may carry personal arms, however, the vehicle itself is fitted only with light support weapons.
ICVs, on the other hand, are designed for attack and have fire support such as machine guns, auto-cannons, small-bore direct fire artillery, anti-tank guided missiles and gun ports fitted atop. Both these vehicles can be tracked or wheeled in order to provide mobility in varying terrains. After the standoff with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Ladakh, the Indian Army signed a number of contracts with Indian companies for the induction of heavy armoured protection vehicles for secure mobility of soldiers deployed in inhospitable terrains. Indian companies such as Bharat Forge, Mahindra and the Tata Group were at the forefront of bagging these contacts.
The Hyderabad-based Midhani, a defence public sector undertaking, will supply armoured vehicles to the J&K Police. The Times of India reported the Midhani chairman and managing director S K Jha as saying that the upgraded armoured vehicles will meet the latest international security standards. Midhani will manufacture at least 60 such vehicles for the J&K Police. The Central Reserve Police Force inducted the heavily-armoured Mine Protected Vehicles (MPVs) ‘Renault Sherpa’ as well as the Mahindra Marksman in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Indian Army is in the process of procuring assorted vehicles from different Indian companies after the ministry of defence (MoD) in May 2022 floated a Request for Information (RFI) to purchase 500 Protected Mobility Vehicle (PMV), also called ‘high-mobility vehicles’ for high-altitude areas (above 4,000 metres), deserts and plains.
The RFI stated that the vehicles should be wheeled, have a 4×4 drive mode and should have automatic transmission. The personnel carrying capacity should be 10, excluding the driver and co-driver, with each personnel carrying a load of up to 30 kg. The requirement further stated that the vehicle must have ballistic protection to safeguard the vehicle from grenade and mine blasts. It should have a maximum speed of 90 km on road and 40 km per hour on cross country terrain.
The vehicles should also be able to operate in temperature ranges of 40 degree Celsius to minus 15 degree in high-altitude areas. The vehicle will be fitted with a 7.62 mm LMG and a turret with 360-degree rotation for the LMG. It is also required to have 11 firing ports, five each on both sides and one at the rear of the vehicle. Even as the RFI has not materialised, procurements continue based on the earlier orders that the ministry placed with the companies.
In addition, the army is looking for 800 indigenous Light Armoured Multipurpose Vehicles (LAMV). In an RFI issued in June this year, the army stated that these vehicles would be deployed with mechanised and armoured units. The vehicles are intended to be deployed in different terrain, including desert, plains and high altitude. They should be capable of issuing early warning and intelligence and also be adaptable to drones. In India, Tata Motors offers these vehicles. The company displayed the LAMV for the first time at DefExpo in 2014. The company describes the vehicle as an attack vehicle designed for patrol, convoy protection and light strike missions. These vehicles, as per the RFI, will be employed in high-altitude (up to 5,000 metres above mean-sea level), including in India’s northern borders in Eastern Ladakh and North Sikkim.
In October, Bharat Forge supplied 60 M4 armoured vehicles to the army, some of which have been deployed in eastern Ladakh since the standoff. The company is set to supply another 30 vehicles and is also looking at exports. The M4 is upgraded with firepower by an addition of Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM). The Hindu reported that plans are under way to upgrade the existing 30mm gun to a 76mm gun. The M4 is of South African origin and an emergency procurement was ordered in early 2021. These vehicles underwent tests in August 2020. In February 2021, the MoD placed an order worth Rs 177.95 crore for these vehicles a day after Bharat Forge entered into an agreement with the South African aerospace and technology firm Paramount Group for producing armoured vehicles.
Earlier this year in July, the army inducted new combat vehicles in Ladakh for “swift patrols and quick induction of troops to enable them to carry out reconnaissance as well as offensive ops.” The vehicles, called the Infantry Protected Mobility Vehicle (IPMV) or Quick Reaction Fighting Vehicles (QRFV), were inducted after trials in the high-altitude plateau region of Eastern Ladakh. They have the ability to function in the tough terrain at a height of over 16,000 feet.
The bullet-proof vehicle is mounted with a remote-controlled, 360-degree machine gun and can carry 12 fully armed soldiers who can fire from 10 firing ports from within the vehicle. The IPMVs are manufactured by Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL). These were first inducted in Ladakh and will be inducted in other parts of the country as well. The induction of these vehicles comes after the Indian Army found it did not have adequate numbers of these vehicles. The Chinese, who had an advantage in mobility, were able to mobilise troops quickly and efficiently in the forward areas of Ladakh. The Indian Army already operates the Tata Kestrel IPMVs, which were handed over in April 2022.
The MoD extended a manufacturing contract of armoured tactical vehicles for the Indian Army for its recce and weapon carrier requirements to Mahindra Defence Systems Ltd (MDSL). The contract, worth Rs 1,506 crore, was for 1,300 armoured light specialist vehicles (ASLV). The deliveries, which began in 2021 and are ongoing, will be completed in 2024. The vehicle, indigenously designed and developed by Mahindra, provides all-round protection against small arms fire. The ALSV has undergone rigorous and elaborate trial procedures conducted by the Indian Army in different terrains, including high altitude, deserts and plains. The Mahindra ALSV was the only vehicle that passed all the field, ballistics and technical tests. The ALSV has ample storage area for arms and ammunition inside the crew compartment. It also offers an additional 400kg capacity for carrying cargo.
In April 2021, Ashok Leyland delivered the first batch of light bullet proof vehicles (LBPV). The LBPV is an adapted version of the Lockheed Martin’s Common Vehicle Next Gen (CVNG), which has been developed under transfer of technology since 2014 from Lockheed Martin to Ashok Leyland. It has been completely indigenised and developed in India.
The Indian Army operates Tata Merlin Light Support Vehicle, Viper tactical vehicle by Shri Lakshmi Defence Solutions, Tata Mine Protected Vehicle, Mahindra Marksman, Windy 505, Ashok Leyland Medium Bullet Proof Vehicle (MBPV), Mahindra Armoured MEVA Straton Plus, Tata Kestrel, Renault Sherpa and Mahindra Mine Protected Vehicle India (MPVI) among others.
The plan to procure future infantry combat vehicles (FICVs) has been going on for a long time. In 2021, a new RFI for the FICV was issued for the third time. The vehicles will be used by the army’s mechanised forces, making it their mainstay for safe mobility. The army is keen on procuring 1,750 FICVs and are expected to cost around Rs 60,000 crore.
As per the RFI, the vehicles would be divided into gun version and specialist vehicles. The RFI specified that after two years of the contract being inked, Indian vendors could collaborate with foreign OEMs to deliver 75-100 vehicles per year. As per reports, the induction will be done in three phases. The first phase would pertain to Limited Series Production (LSP) that would enable 10 per cent of the total vehicles to be delivered over two years. In the second phase of Product Improvement, around 40 per cent of the total vehicles would be delivered in nearly seven years. In the third phase, the balance number of vehicles would be delivered with technical upgrades and product improvement.
The programme was first envisaged in 2009. But the initial plan to manufacture these vehicles indigenously was dropped in 2012 because the plan was to upgrade the existing BMPs. This plan, however, did not materialise because of technical issues in the platform. Following this in 2013, the FICV Request for Proposal (RFP) was withdrawn, redrafted and floated again.
In 2014, the government came out with a new plan under which the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and two private companies were to develop prototypes of the FICV. The Department of Defence Production (DoDP) empanelled 10 companies for the FICV order—Reliance Defence, L&T, Tata Power SED, Tata Motors, Mahindra Defence Systems, Adani Defence, OFB, Bharat Forge, Punj Lloyd, and Rolta India. In July 2015, a new Expression of Interest (EoI) was sent to 10 empanelled firms, including L&T, Mahindra and Mahindra, Pipavav Defence, OFB and consortiums of Tata Power SED-Titagarh Wagons and Tata Motors Ltd, and Bharat Forge Ltd. After several meetings, the Defence Production Board (DPB) was to finalise two of the five firms which had submitted bids and were eligible to build two separate FICV prototypes in collaboration with the state-owned OFB.
In October 2018 the FICV project (under DPP-2016) was shifted to a Make-II project to involve private sector companies under the Make in India initiative. In 2019, Indian companies such as the L&T, Mahindra and Mahindra and others sent their proposals to the MoD.
Despite the Make-II plan, the project did not move forward and The Financial Express reported that the files were sent back to the Army Headquarters to understand how it wanted the project to progress. The MoD was insistent that the army pay for the project, a crucial difference between ‘Make’ and ‘Make-2’. The ‘Make’ category came under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model. Under the ‘Make’ category, the ministry is required to pay 90 per cent of the funds whereas under the ‘Make-2’, the ministry does not bear the cost, the army becomes the sole payer. Many OEMs expressed concern regarding this and insisted that the programme be continued under the ‘Make’ category and the process of shortlisting of two Development Agencies (DAs) must be completed.
As FORCE reported after DefExpo 2022, ‘During the expo, it emerged that the CVRDE-L&T has been developing, since 2017, a FICV family, which, if ordered, will be bulk-produced at L&T’s first private-sector armoured systems complex (ASC) at Hazira, Gujarat. According to L&T, the ASC can be used to build and perform integration activities on tracked self-propelled artillery howitzers, FICVs, FRCVs, FMBTs 8 x 8 wheeled armoured platforms (WhAP). The full-scale conceptual FICV built by L&T made its debut at the expo and it features a hull and turret built completely with lightweight composites-based materials, and a 40mm cannon mounted on the unmanned turret.’
The report stated that the semi-active type explosive reactive armour (ERA) option. As a result, the vehicle weight has increased considerably. For increased mobility, the vehicle should weigh less. However, the enhanced protection, improved firing capability and advanced features like laser warning countermeasure system, mine-plough and see-through armour augmented reality vectronics have tremendously increased the ICV’s weight. This unintended increase in weight reduces the vehicle’s efficiency/performance.
The only other Indian OEM known to be developing FICV family is Avani, which did not showcase its conceptual prototype at the expo, opting instead to show an audio-visual presentation of its proposed solution that will be powered by a CVRDE-developed 600hp diesel engine coupled to an Allison-supplied transmission.
All over the world, defence industries have developed several types of armoured personnel vehicles as well as infantry fighting vehicles. The Patria AMV (Armoured Modular Vehicle) is a modern 8×8 armoured wheeled vehicle manufactured by the Finland-based Patria. Following the market launch in 2004, more than 1,600 Patria AMVs have so far been ordered by the armed forces of Finland, Croatia, Poland, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and the UAE.
The Boxer APC version is an armoured personnel carrier produced by ARTEC, a joint venture between Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall. Primarily operated by the German army, the Boxer APC can safely transport 11 occupants, including three crew and eight infantrymen. The vehicle is integrated with spaced and sloped armour solutions for protection against mines, IEDs and ballistic threats.
The Piranha V is the latest member in the family of the Piranha multi-role wheeled armoured vehicles manufactured by MOWAG (now known as General Dynamics European Land Systems-Mowag).
The Piranha V armoured personnel carrier accommodates 13 personnel in a well-protected armoured hull, which resists the impact of mines, IEDs and EFP threats. The vehicle can be fitted with an active protection system and add-on armour, offering various levels of protection with more than 95 per cent coverage.
The Boomerang K-16 is a new 8×8 APC developed by the Military Industrial Company (VPK) to replace the aging BTR family of armoured vehicles in service with the Russian armed forces. It was displayed for the first time to the public during the rehearsals of the 2015 Moscow Victory Day Parade.
Pandur II 8×8 armoured personnel carrier is an improved version of the Pandur I 6×6 wheeled armoured vehicle produced by General Dynamics European Land Systems-Steyr. The vehicle is currently in service with the Czech Army, Austrian Army, Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), and the Portuguese Armed Forces.
The ARMA 8×8 modular wheeled armoured vehicle was unveiled by the Turkey-based Otokar Otomotiv ve Savunma Sanayi at the 2013 International Defence Industry Fair (IDF). The base ARMA vehicle serves as a modular platform for a variety of mission configurations. The AV8 armoured personnel carrier (APC) is manufactured by DefTech in collaboration with FNSS and was introduced in 2012. The vehicle was developed for the Malaysian armed forces, based on FNSS’ Pars 8×8 APC vehicles, which are in service with the Turkish army.
The Terrex 8×8 armoured personnel carrier (APC) is manufactured by ST Kinetics and is in service with the Singapore armed forces. The vehicle, offering greater mobility and enhanced survivability, carries 13 troops. It has a built-in central tyre inflation system that permits automated inflation and deflation of tyres for different terrains during movement.
The BTR-4MV1 is an up-armoured version of the BTR-4 8×8 APC manufactured by Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau based in Ukraine. The BT-4 family of vehicles is in service with the armies of Iraq and Ukraine transporting troops of mechanised infantry units and providing fire support in combat actions.
The BTR-82A, an improved version of the BTR-80 family of vehicles, is an 8×8 APC produced by Military Industrial Company of Russia for use by the armies of Russia and Kazakhstan.
Thales’ Bushmaster is a combat proven vehicle that is in service with the Australian defence force and seven other nations and was deployed during operations in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the Pacific. Ongoing design enhancement, a wide range of user selectable mission equipment and mature through life support have ensured that Bushmaster continues to meet evolving customer requirements. Bushmaster is a 15-tonne, 4×4 protected vehicle with a 4-tonne payload, designed to perform a diverse range of mission profiles. Its variants include troop carrier, command, patrol, support, weapons deployment and ambulance.
The AJBAN 447A Multi-Role Armoured Vehicles are designed for use in a wide range of specialist military roles. They offer high levels of survivability, mobility and firepower. The seven-seater 447A features a highly configurable armoured cabin, designed for functions such as tactical response, border patrol, reconnaissance, counter-insurgency and special missions.
Dagger is a 4×4 light armoured vehicle currently operational with the armies across Europe, Africa and South America. It is used for troop transportation, liaison, surveillance and search-and-rescue (SAR) missions. The light-armoured unit is available in four major variants for personnel transport. Arquus is also developing an unnamed version of the Dagger under its robotisation programme.
The EAGLE family of vehicles is in service with various armed forces. It offers a high payload and a large protected interior in addition to a flexible load space at the rear of the vehicle. Depending on the mission role, 4×4 or 6×6 versions are available.
Drawing on the exceptional heritage of the Paramount Group’s Mbombe 8×8, now in production following its launch in 2016, and the Mbombe 6×6, which has entered service, the Mbombe 4×4 completes the highly advanced Mbombe family of combat vehicles. Displaying a striking new design, packed with the latest technologies and capabilities required for the modern battlefield and ever-evolving threats, the Mbombe 4×4 offers outstanding levels of protection, mobility and flexibility.
South Africa’s Milkor 4×4 APC is used for troop transportation, casualty evacuation and riot control missions. It can also be deployed by the police forces, law enforcement agencies, security forces and militaries across the world. The vehicle is based on a reinforced commercial chassis, integrating a 4×4-wheel drive configuration.
With the emerging threat scenarios, the use of these vehicles by the army becomes imperative. In the face of the Chinese aggression in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh they become a must. With security challenges inside and outside the country mounting, such vehicles will ensure safe and quick transportation of troops.