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Army seeks infantry combat vehicles: What are they & why it’s taken 3 attempts to acquire them

Army's Future Infantry Combat Vehicles, or FICVs, will also carry mini drones and loitering munitions apart from troops, for operations along borders with China and Pakistan.

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New Delhi: The Army Thursday issued a Request for Information (RFI) under the Make in India initiative for acquiring 1,750 Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), that will become the mainstay of our mechanised forces for decades to come. This project, which is expected to eventually cost at least Rs 50,000 crore, is the third attempt in over a decade to acquire such capability.

Once the Army studies the RFI response, it will move the defence ministry for grant of Acceptance of Necessity after which a formal tender will be issued.

It is only then that a prototype will be made by selected companies following which trials will take place.

A formal induction of the system into the Army is not expected before the 2028-30 period, sources in the defence establishment said.

The FICV, which will be a tracked vehicle, will replace the 1980’s vintage Soviet-designed BMP-2 currently in use with the 49 battalions of the Mechanised Infantry, each with 51 BMP-2s. These vehicles were produced under licence at the Ordnance Factory Medak in Telangana.

The proposed FICV, which is also meant to carry mini drones and even loitering munitions (such as kamikaze drones), will be used for operations along the borders with China in the Northern, Central and Eastern sectors, besides in the plains and deserts with Pakistan.

Indian companies expected to be in contention include Mahindra and Mahindra, TATA, Bharat Forge, Larsen & Toubro among others. Foreign companies like Rosoboronexport of Russia, General Dynamic of the US and Germany’s Rheinmetall are expected to be part of the competition besides firms from South Africa and South Korea.

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A project in the making since late 2000s

The FICV project was first envisaged in the mid-2000s and the formal process was initiated in 2009 by the Mechanised Infantry Directorate. It was felt that India needs to have an indigenous system which will become the mainstay for decades to come and the project was expected to cost around Rs 26,000 crore.

The 2009 plan had envisaged induction of FICVs beginning in 2022. However, even though the ball was set rolling on selection of private companies to manufacture the FICV, the process was withdrawn in 2012 as it was felt that an upgrade of existing systems would suffice.

A fresh plan was mooted in 2014, according to which the government was to select state-run Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and two private firms for separately developing prototypes of the FICVs.

The project was to be implemented under Make 1 category of the defence procurement procedure, under which the government would have undertaken 90 per cent of the funding for the prototype for the three selected firms.

This process was stalled with one of the players offering to manufacture the vehicles under Make 2 category, in which the money would have been spent by the industry and not the government.

Sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint that while 10 companies were identified, only six had responded to the Army’s Expression of Interest (EOI) for FICV under Make 1. The responses were analysed by the Army and submitted to the defence ministry.

Then in 2019, the ministry informed the Army that the project cannot be carried forward through the Make 1 category and hence a fresh RFI has been issued now, sources said.

They added that technical parameters have undergone a total change from the previous attempt and additional futuristic requirements have been added.

In 2016, the project was hit by a controversy when a contender wrote to the defence ministry seeking disqualification of three competitors on grounds of financial inconsistencies.

The complaint was analysed by a panel of Independent Expert Monitors (IEMs) and in November 2017, it is understood to have cleared the project.

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What Army is seeking in FICVs

According to the plan, 55 per cent of the eventual order will be gun versions or combat variety of FICVs. The Command version will be approximately 20 per cent of total order while the Command & Surveillance version will be approximately 25 per cent of total order.

Under the latest RFI, the combat versions of the FICV should house a crew of three and be able to carry at least eight soldiers. The remaining two variants should have a crew of three and be able to carry four soldiers.

The RFI states that the FICV should be equipped with at least a 30mm main gun and anti-tank missiles besides other firepower.

While these are expected requirements, the Army has also sought mini drones carrying capability for surveillance of at least 10 km and also for loitering munitions to hit out at the enemy away from the line of sight.

The loitering munition is supposed to have data link range at least 10 km with loiter time of at least 60 minutes. The Army has also said the loitering munition should have multi mission capability and be effective against armoured vehicles as well as personnel besides having top-attack capability.

A three-stage induction model has been proposed by the Army and Indian vendors can collaborate with foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to supply FICV within two years at the rate of 75-100 vehicles per year.

The Stage-I of delivery is for Limited Series Production (LSP), wherein approximately 10 per cent of the total quantity is delivered over two years at a rate of 75-100 fully formed FICV per year.

Stage-II will be for Product Improvement wherein approximately 40 per cent of the total quantity is delivered over six to seven years at the rate of 100 FICVs per year.

These quantities are expected to incorporate product improvement aspects learnt from exploitation of the LSP model.

In the final stage, Stage-III, the final order will include the delivery of the balance number of FICVs with technical upgrades, besides product improvement aspects from the Stage-II product.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

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