New Delhi: After Bharat Forge and Mahindra, the TATA Group is set to bag a contract from the Indian Army for heavy armoured protection vehicles for its soldiers deployed in key sectors, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the while the programmes to ensure better mobility and protection to infantry soldiers started years ago, the recent standoff with China has shown the need for the critical capability in inhospitable terrains.
The Indian capability was seen wanting in Ladakh where the Chinese displayed greater mobility, inducting and de-inducting troops from frontline areas faster as they used different kinds of vehicles for the infantry.
“The vehicles not only provide protection to the soldiers but also help in faster induction and de-induction,” a source said.
The Indian Army has now sped up the process for its own acquisition process.
The first to hit off the ground were M4 armoured vehicles, of South African origin, which were tested in Ladakh during the standoff with China.
Last month, the Ministry of Defence also signed a contract with Mahindra Defence Systems Ltd (MDSL) for a supply of 1,300 light specialist vehicles to the Indian Army, at a cost of Rs 1,056 crore.
Sources said there are two more programmes for procurement of special wheeled vehicles, one of which has TATA as the frontrunner.
However, in terms of units, the numbers are less than 100 vehicles when combined together, the sources said.
M4 and light specialist vehicles
With the Army upgrading its mobility power, orders for 27 M4 armoured vehicles were placed in February with the Pune-based Bharat Forge of the Kalyani group, which has a tie-up with the South African firm Paramount Group.
The vehicles, a multi-role platform, designed to meet the requirements of the armed forces for quick mobility in rough terrain and in areas affected by mine and IED threats, are expensive as 27 of them cost Rs 177.95 crore.
Meanwhile, the 1,300 light specialist vehicles that Mahindra is to deliver in the next four years are authorised to various fighting units for carriage of medium machine guns, automatic grenade launchers as well as anti-tank guided missiles.
The Mahindra vehicles, in fact, beat a TATA platform to be selected.
“These vehicles are different from the M4 and are meant for specific operations. The Army is looking at different types of troop carrying wheeled vehicles which offer various grades of armoured protection,” another source in the defence establishment said.
Incidentally, certain specialised units of the Army have gone in for light strike vehicles (LSVs) from Force Motors that offer a lot of room for special operations as they can be air-dropped for operations deep inside enemy territory.
‘A welcome modernisation’
While contracts are being signed now, the fact is that they are long pending programmes, a source explained.
He added that the LSV for the Special Forces, which was inked in 2018, was actually envisioned in 2002 as part of a study conducted by the Army for modernisation of Special Forces.
Similarly, armoured protection for infantry soldiers was a proposal that was first moved in 2011 by the department concerned in the Army, only to be set aside by the force’s top hierarchy for certain reasons.
“The contracts inked are actually a very welcome modernisation process. Infantry soldiers need to have mobility and protection. In many countries, infantry is complete mechanised infantry,” former Western Army Commander Lt Gen K.J. Singh told ThePrint.
The Mechanized Infantry Regiment of the Army is the youngest and was the brainchild of former Army chief K. Sundarji, who is also fondly called the ‘Father of the Mechanised Infantry Regiment’.
Gen Sundarji had during his tenure from 1986 to 1988, introduced a number of technical and operational initiatives for the force and went on to raise the Mechanised Infantry Regiment. With emphasis on speed, technology and mobile weaponry, the youngest arm of the Indian Army is now an integral part of the strike forces.
Given that the Army’s operational areas range from the deserts and plains to high altitudes, Lt Gen. Singh questioned why the force cannot go in for terrain-specific vehicles rather than placing larger order of all-terrain systems.
Mobility by air and water has increased
The recent standoff with China is eastern Ladakh also showcased how the ability to induct men and equipment has changed over the years.
As India raced against China in the initial phases to counter its aggression last year, the Air Force came handy with its latest fleet of transport aircraft and helicopters.
Men and some of the urgent equipment, including tanks and armoured personnel carriers, were inducted into the Ladakh sector by air.
“Army’s mobility also needs to be seen in the context of the air lifting capabilities of the Air Force. Had it not been for the IAF, induction of men and material would have taken a little more time,” a source said.
It is not just in air and land that the Army is undergoing a jump in mobility prowess but also in the waters.
Army has gone in for emergency procurement of specialised boats to counter the faster and heavy vessels of the People’s Liberation Army.
(This report has been updated to reflect that certain specialised units of the Army have gone in for light strike vehicles (LSVs) from Force Motors and not Bharat Forge, and that the contract for LSV for the Special Forces was inked in 2018 and not 2019. The error is regretted.)