Time to Get Serious

The Future Infantry Combat Vehicle programme cannot afford further delays

Mihir Paul

In addition to the numerous big-ticket procurements that were fast-tracked for the Indian Army this year, the need for a robust inventory of Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs) continues to be felt.

BMP 2 during Exercise Sanghe Shakti

Armoured vehicles have always had a role in warfare, albeit varying in degree of importance. Tanks have invariably played a decisive role in a plethora of conflicts. Although extremely lethal, effective, and well protected, tanks become vulnerable to local threats in the battlefield when independently operated. Threats like missiles launched from aerial platforms to infantry carrying portable hand-held anti-tank weapons must be handled well in order to carry out operations effectively. Therefore, a need for group infantry with tanks was felt and thus, the concept of mechanised infantry came up in modern warfare. The infantry was provided with armoured vehicles to close the mobility and protection gap between tanks and troops. This was the origin of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC). The APC was designed as an armoured vehicle capable of carrying infantry and equipment into the battlefield. These ‘Battle Taxis’ were soon replaced by heavily armed ICVs which are in use today. Vehicles of mechanised infantry like APCs and ICVs are fully tracked or all-wheel drive platforms that offer extreme mobility across all terrains. While APCs are usually only armed with light support weapons, ICVs come with machine guns, auto-cannons, small-bore direct fire artillery, anti-tank guided missiles, and gun ports for passengers to fire.

According to Brig. Ravi R. Palsokar (retd), the modern integrated battlefield necessitates close coordination between its component fighting arms – tanks, infantry, artillery, et al. backed up by reliable and effective communications and logistics.

“The need for infantry to act in conjunction with tanks cannot be understated, and thus, the necessity to have compatible mobility with the tank units with which it operates. In today’s battlefield conditions, mechanised infantry has the mobility to match the tank units it operates with. Under nuclear conditions, a closed down ICV also provides basic NBC protection.”

In the context of the Indian Army, the Mechanised Infantry Regiment came into being in 1979 with an aim to provide greater mobility and protection to the infantry. The Mechanised Infantry Regiment has seen action in a myriad of operations like Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka and Operation Vijay in Jammu and Kashmir among others. The mechanised infantry units are primarily meant to operate in the western front. They operate as part of the Indian ‘Cold Start Doctrine’ which involves armour and mechanised infantry forming ‘Integrated Battle Groups’ to launch into an adversary.

The Indian Army currently has BMP-2 ‘Sarath’ ICVs. These are tracked armoured vehicles originating in the erstwhile Soviet Union (now produced indigenously by Ordnance Factory Medak). Its main armament consists of a 30mm gun, Konkurs ATGM (Anti-tank Guided Missile) and has a 7.62 mm machine gun for close protection. Additionally, it carries seven infantry personnel with their commander, and they have portholes on the side of the vehicle to be able to fire their weapons outside if the need arises. These were first inducted in the Eighties, and the army has a strength of about 1900 BMP-2s still in service.  While the BMP-2s get the ‘job’ done, like everything else falling under ministry of defence (MoD’s) modernisation plan, ICVs too, are in need of a significant upgrade.

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