In the Nation’s Interest

The FRCV and FICV programmes need a solid push

Mihir Paul

While the government’s Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) and Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) programme saw slight progress in 2018, it now seems to have fallen into the chasms of India’s delay-plagued procurement process that is riddled with bureaucratic resistance.

Next generation Russian main battle tank, T-14 Armata

Armoured vehicles like tanks have invariably played a decisive role in a plethora of conflicts throughout the world and are now considered key components of modern armies. Modern-day battle tanks seldom operate alone as they are organised into armoured units which involve the support of infantry, who may accompany the tanks in infantry combat vehicles. Although extremely lethal, effective, and well protected, tanks become vulnerable to local threats in the battlefield when independently operated. In the case of asymmetric warfare, threats like infantry carrying portable hand-held anti-tank weapons to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) must be handled well in order to carry out operations effectively. This is where the concept of mechanised infantry comes in. Mechanised infantry deploys alongside tanks on ‘battle taxis’ like Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and ICVs to support and protect Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) from such threats. 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. R. Palsokar (retd), the modern integrated battlefield necessitates close coordination between its component fighting arms – tanks, infantry, artillery, et al. backed by reliable and effective communications and logistics.


Future Ready Combat Vehicle

Keeping in mind the Indian Army’s inventory of MBTs and ICVs, the MoD, in November 2017, floated a Request for Information (RFI) for the procurement of approximately 1,770 new-generation combat vehicle platforms with different kit combinations under its FRCV programme to replace the ageing inventory of T-72 MBTs.

The RFI came two years after the Indian Army had expressed its interest in the ‘development of a futuristic combat vehicle for induction by 2025-2027. The FRCV’s base platform would then be used for the 2,610 infantry combat vehicles designed under the FICV programme. The FRCV’s battle tank variant (earlier called FMBT), destined to replace the T-72s, would be catered for ‘future’ battlefield environments and technological possibilities. The envisaged FRCV would be a modular platform offering the same high degree of flexibility of a MBT. At the same time, the FRCV’s platform would serve as a base on which an entire ‘family of vehicles’ could be developed for the army. This move also indicated that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)-developed Arjun MBT does not meet the Indian Army’s future requirements.

Since the FRCV programme is under the ‘Make I’ category, the Request for Proposal (RFP), when issued, would draw in global tank original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) after which the winner would be chosen by the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces followed by a prototype development and finally, co-production with an Indian partner. This three-stage process is unprecedented in the Indian Army’s procurement history as all previously acquired battle-tanks didn’t fall under the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. The invariably arduous procurement process is one of the reasons why the FRCV programme has seen procedural delays since its inception.

While the Indian Army has been wanting to replace its existing T-72 fleet for quite some time now, as evident by Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat’s visit to Russia last year to discuss the purchase of Russian T-14 Armata FRCVs, the programme itself hasn’t even reached the RFP stage yet. Although the T-14 Armata is a strong contender in the FRCV contest, the government needs to find a way to fast-track this procurement to see any fruition coming to this delay-plagued project. Furthermore, the FRCV programme amplifies the Indian Army’s push for a modern battle tank with a robust and flexible base platform that can be adopted into a multitude of specialised armoured fighting vehicles.

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