The Indian Army Armored Corps comprises 63 regiments and has massive modernization and upgradation program to match the rival forces across the border. 

However the tardy manner in which the Indian defense establishments works, it is doubtful if the Indian Army would be equipped with required armored vehicles within reasonable time frame to ensure the survivability of its armored regiments.

Though the situation is not as bad as the artillery regiments in which no new Howitzer guns have been added since last 25 years. However, the pace of modernization of the Indian armored corps has not been satisfactory. 

The Vijayantas and the T-72s have been the backbone of the Indian armored corps but with the fast changing battlefield scenario, the Indian Army must move with the times.

Over the years the Indian Army has seen the acquisition of Russian T-90 tanks along with the hesitant induction of the Indian developed Arjun Main Battle Tanks. These tanks are on the process of getting inducted and the army headquarters are now working on next generation main battle tanks, for which the DRDO has instructed its CVRDE to come out as soon as possible with the Arjun Mark-2.

Defense PSU Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) in February 2017 unveiled a new Weapon Control system for 12.7 mm Gun of MBT Arjun Mk II battle tank. Remote Controlled Weapon Station (RCWS)/Air Defense Weapon Station (ADWS) is an improvised version of the manually operated air defense gun.

It enables the soldier to aim and fire at aerial targets from the safe interiors of the battle tank, BEL said in a release, noting that, presently, the 12.7 mm guns of all tanks are manually operated.

Induction Plans

However, besides tanks the Indian Army headquarters have grandiose plans to induct other vehicles like the Armored Personnel Carrier and the Future Infantry Combat Vehicles besides the plan to upgrade the Arjun Main Battle Tanks with the Laser warning control system, mobile camouflaging system and 1500 hp engine.

The Army wants to induct the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle likely to be worth US$ 15 billion. The Directorate General of mechanized forces of the Indian Army has also indicated the requirement of Heavy Recovery Vehicle to the MoD, but the files are still moving up and down.

Since the Indian Army possesses over 3,500 tanks and over 2,500 Infantry Combat Vehicles, the army urgently needs very efficient recovery vehicles. But the urgency has not dawned upon the decision makers, whose predicament can be well understood from the fact that they have not yet been able to clear the Howitzers guns acquisition.

However, for any modern army, the recovery vehicles are considered an essential prerequisite for the armored warfare.

The Directorate General of Mechanized forces has also indicated the requirements of over 5,000 and up to 70,000 Light small vehicles to be used in the combat zone. Meanwhile, the tender for 100 Armored Personnel Carriers have again been issued and the Army Headquarters wants them to fire while on move with good speed on road and cross country protection. It should have gun, cannon and automatic grenade loader along with modern communication systems and amphibious capability.

For the armored personnel carriers there are many foreign companies in the race which includes the Russian Rosoboronexport, the American General Dynamics, Italian Finmeccanica, British BAE systems and the Indian company TATA Motors which wants to produce the 8x8 APC.

Abhay Infantry Fighting Vehicle

The DRDO has also offered to the Indian Army the Infantry fighting vehicle called Abhay which has been developed within Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment of the DRDO. Abhay will have automatic self loading cannon (Bofors 40 mm L70 HV). It will have six double wheeled road wheels, hydro-pneumatic suspension system, 360 degrees traversing turret, 30 mm automatic grenade launcher and modern communication systems.

The Abhay is an armored vehicle program under development to replace the Soviet era BMP-2 fighting vehicles and the design of the Abhay is largely based on the BMP series for which development work began in mid nineties and the trials began in 2000. 

The Abhay is in the class of vehicles between an Armored Personnel Carrier and the Main Battle Tank and has been classified as Infantry Combat Vehicle. This is currently in the early stages of evaluation and the army wants to induct them in large numbers to fill the gap in tank warfare. In fact this will be a major part of army’s armor modernization program in the future. 

Though Indian Army operated the Soviet BMP in limited numbers, but they gained enough experience to modify the armored vehicle to suit its combat requirements in accordance with the terrain.

It will have a crew of three standard personnel consisting of driver, gunner and commander. The vehicle will have a compartment of seven combat ready troops with an access door in the back. The soldiers inside will be protected by the armor of Kanchan fame used in the Arjun Battle Tank. 

The Israeli Merkava MBT has the same rear facility for infantry soldiers. It will be equipped with six smoke grenade dischargers for self defense by creating tactical smoke screens. Standard NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) protection will also be available along with integrated laser warning receivers.

An integrated fire control system and along with thermal sights will assist the crew. The AFPSDS and the High Explosive ammunition will be selectively used to destroy hard and soft targets. The vehicle will store 210 projectiles of 40 mm ammunition. The Abhay will also include the anti tank missile launchers for penetrating the armor of the enemy Main Battle Tanks. It will also be able to take on the attack helicopters with its machine gun.

The Abhay has also been described as Future Infantry Fighting Vehicle (FICV) and will be a 22-24 ton fighting vehicle with the striking capacity of a 45 ton MBT. However, the Abhay will have to compete with other domestic companies who have set sight on the Indian Army’s requirement to replace the BMP-2. 

TATA Motors, L&T and the Mahindra are also emerging as contenders for the FICV. The Indian Army will require more than 2,600 of these FICV and the order will be worth Rs 60,000 crores. The Indian companies are partnering with foreign companies to offer a competitive system. For example L&T has tied up with CMI of Belgium and Mahindra has tied up with BAE systems. TATA has partnered with German giant Rheinmetall (In a new twist to a corruption case involving arms giant Rheinmetall, the investigative agencies have got fresh evidence alleging that the company entered into a commission contract with a well-known arms dealer to sell air defense guns in India in violation of rules that bar middlemen.).

The Indian MoD has notified that the FICV will be acquired under the make category of the DPP. MoD hopes that this will help develop India’s private sector defense industry, but experts are of the opinion that the MoD should not ignore the Abhay FICV already under very advanced stage of development and ask the Indian private industry to partner with the DRDO to produce the FICV under technology transfer.

The Ordnance Factory under the MoD is a serious contender with this indigenous design and technical know how, a very important factor in reducing critical dependence on foreign suppliers for critical spare parts in the event of emergency.

Though the MoD initiated the proposal to acquire FICV in 2010, the final decision is yet to see the light of the day. Like other major and critical acquisition program of the MoD the FICV project also seem to be languishing in the files.

In the meanwhile, in a significant move the government in March 2017 approved the acquisition of specialized artillery guns that will move on tank-type tracks to accompany tanks and mechanized regiments to battle. The Cabinet Committee on Security has approved the purchase of “tracked self-propelled” artillery guns, sources said today.

Larsen Toubro (L&T) will produce the gun in collaboration with a foreign partner. The project for 100 guns will cost around Rs 4,200 crore. Deliveries will be completed within three years. The gun, “K-9 Vajra-T”, is a 155-mm/52-caliber self-propelled howitzer.

After pushing the MBT induction process to its scheduled path in the last decade, the focus of the Army Headquarter is now on the FICV, which if delivered according to the Army Qualitative Requirement, will strengthen the combat potentials of the Indian Army. (Adapted with inputs from Center for Asian Strategic Studies-India)