On a Reverie Trail Induced by Indian Army’s FRCV(Future Ready Combat Vehicle)& FICV


Muhammad-Bin-Tughlaq, the second ruler of Tughlaq Dynasty, is legendary for his whimsical plans, of the type ‘Make in India’ is – flattering at inception, flawed in execution, bringing no felicitous outcome. Under one such Tughalaqi furmaan(decree) reluctant Indian Army was foisted with some 124 Arjun-I tanks some years back. Assurance was given that tank would be revamped, technical shortfalls addressed and minimum requirements met in Arjun MBT-II, which still is facing one delay after the other.

But now the cat surely seems to have finally come out of the bag. Time has come for Indian Army to initiate the process to procure its next generation FRCV (Future Ready Combat Vehicle) and FICV (Future Infantry Combat Vehicle), and Arjun MBT-III is lamentably still nowhere on Army’s radar.

Further irony is the way netizens of India are viralling news on likelihood of India acquiring T-14 Armata. While Indian Army may actually get Russian Armata, at least for nascent indigenous defence sector, it is certainly not an occasion to celebrate. Armata in fact is a haunting reminder that vaunted ‘Make in India’ has registered one more miserable failure. As they say proof of the pudding lies in the eating. T-14 shall be a living proof that DRDO’s in-house attempts to make a tank of repute that go back to 1996 and from theron on to 1972 when its Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) took up the onerous task, have all but bitten the dust.

While efforts would continue to resurrect Arjun MBT well into the next decade, it seems the only way Arjun-III can now make way into Indian Army is, the way Arjun-I did i.e. at the mercy of Indian Army. A decade from now, may be more, hundred odd Arjun-III would be willy-nilly inducted by Indian Army to attenuate the loss of face for ‘Make in India’.

⏩ RFP on FRCV and FICV :

T-72 Ajeya

Indian Army has an ageing fleet of 2414 T-72 tanks. The first thought that comes to mind when we talk of their replacement is why not procure more upgraded T-90MS. After all T-90MS equipped with a more powerful 1200-1500HP engine, third generation gun-launched missile system, Shtora-I active protection system (minus the IR dazzler), more accuracy, more comfort to the crew, and full building cycle licence to India can be the frontline warhorse for Army for many years to come.

But by the time FRCV and FICV are set to be inducted (around 2025-2027), the technology of T-90 and current infantry combat vehicle – BMP-II, at 40 years of age, may well have seen its prime. There have been many new developments in the interim. T-90 and BMP-II on the other hand, have already been saturated to incorporate any sweeping new upgrades that the challenging battle environment of 21st century may require.

BMP-II Infantry Fighting Vehicles

For instance, the thread that American NGCV (Next Generation Combat Vehicle) programme is working on, foresees some unmanned combat vehicles preceding the manned battle tank in battlefield. DRDO developed Muntra with some modifications, might carry sufficient punch to fill up that role. The unmanned vehicle could be used as a scouting vehicle, travelling ahead of manned armoured task force. Once it makes contact with the enemy, the unmanned vehicles could identify their positions, attack them with direct fire, and pass their coordinates to nearby manned tanks and air support. This buys the manned component time to form a plan, get into position, and launch an attack on an enemy that has had little time to prepare.

Then, the FRCV must have few times more protection for crew riding inside, considering the ammunition is getting more lethal by the year. In addition to 125mm (or larger) gun for engaging enemy with direct fire, it should have the added ability to engage targets outside line of sight with gun-fired missiles.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are set to become a cost-effective tool of future warfare. To decrease its vulnerability to enemy’s UAVs, I would expect FRCV to carry two to four air-defence missiles as well.

FRCV must generate a large amount of onboard electricity to support lasers, railguns and possibly some sort of future cloaking device. The first generation FRCV may not look anything like the final vehicle, but it should be spacious enough to accommodate all the systems, as and when they are developed. And despite all, it should be light enough to be transported to the upper reaches of Himalaya by C-17 Globemaster III or Ilyushin-76 at a short notice.

So with these epic anticipations in mind, and simultaneously a sense of trepidation at heart whether these can be actually fulfilled, Indian Army in November, 2017 invited interest from industry across the world to develop its Future Ready Combat Vehicle and Future Infantry Combat Vehicle. Since no manufacturer presently provides all the specifics I listed in preceding paragraphs, the Request for Proposal was kept basic to a, “medium weight (45-50 ton) platform required to operate across developed/semi desert/deser terrain and in high altitude areas across the entire spectrum of conflict.”

Just in case some readers are still unenlightened on why instead of easier ‘tank’ a rather stretched out appellation of ‘Future Ready Combat Vehicle’ is being used, FRCV is an armoured platform that will be the base, primarily, for a main battle tank, but otherwise that can be spun off into a variety of specialised vehicles. Similar is the case of FICV.

To elaborate, Indian Army’s Battery Surveillance Radar (BSR) and Akash Missile Launchers are carried on the T-72 chassis, while Rajendra, phased array Fire Control Radar, that guides Akash missile, is carried on BMP-II chassis. In the same way, FRCV and FICV will have wide range of applications.

⏩ Potential Contenders for Indian Army’s FRCV and FICV :

T-90 Bhishma

So the first step is to settle on the essential requirements of FRCV and FICV, then hopefully winnowing the process down to a design that most closely fulfills that. Does T-14 Armata answer the needs? Or have we zeroed on T-14 Armata, simply because it is the only next generation combat vehicle that is at present up for sale?

While it is good for PR spinners to spread it on thick for people that Armata is coming, much before even the die is cast – after all 2019 is near – those at the helm must remember that the way some people were pricked now – “What was the need of Rafale when we have Su-30MKI?” – similar ticklish queries would be posed then as well – “What was the need of Armata when we have T-90?”

The answer to above can be found by raising a corollary enquiry, “Can Armata’s advantages be gained by upgrading the T- 90?”

My answer is a firm ‘No’.

Tanks like T-70, T-80 and T-90 are evolutionary designs, whereas T-14 Armata is a totally new design incorporating many revolutionary features. Here are some relevant details on T-14 Armata from Wikipedia and other sources interspersed with my comments wherever necessary.

First let us dwell on the defensive systems of Armata. In T-14 Armata crew is completely isolated from stored ammunition ensuring safety in case of a burst-up. In case of earlier tanks, a fume extractor is provided to clear the barrel of the gun so that lingering gases and air-borne residues do not escape into crew compartment. But unprotected bore evacuators damaged by bullets have caused considerable problems in past conflicts. However, in T-14 Armata since turret is unmanned and fully automated, there is no need of bore evacuator and the risks it entails.

The internal armoured capsule housing a crew of 3 is protected with more than 900mm RHA (Rolled Homogeneous Armour) increasing their chances of survival.

Both the chassis and the turret are equipped with the Malachit dual-explosive reactive armour (ERA) system on the front, sides and the top. The turret’s shape is designed to reduce its radio and thermal signature. The tank uses an integrated, computerized control system which monitors the state and functions of all tank modules. In battle, the software can analyze threats and then either suggest or automatically take actions to eliminate them, while without the external threat it can detect and rectify crew errors.

The tank features the Afghanit active protection system (APS), which includes a millimeter-wave radar to detect, track, and intercept incoming anti-tank munitions, both kinetic energy penetrators and tandem-charges. Currently, the maximum speed of the interceptable target is 1,700 m/s (Mach 5.0), with projected future increases of up to 3,000 m/s (Mach 8.8)

Defense Update released an analysis of the tank in May 2015 speculating that Afghanit active protection system of Armata would be effective against 3rd and 4th generation ATGMs, including Hellfire, TOW, BILL, Javelin, Spike, Brimstone, and JAGM, as well as sensor-fused weapons (SFW). Some Russian sources claim the hard-kill APS is effective even against depleted uranium-cored armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds traveling at 1.5–2 km/s (0.93–1.24 mi/s).

One of the Russian Generals Oleg Salyukov told Krasnaya Zvezda Newspaper that Armata’s protective gear was designed to make it stealthy, hard to lock-on by precision weapons with its active protection system ensuring timely detection and destruction of incoming munitions. German Media admits Russia’s T-14 Armata tank is breakthrough in military field.

T-14 Armata

Now we consider the offensive power of Armata. The Vacuum-1 APFSDS round fired by 125mm main gun of Armata can achieve a penetration of 1m RHA. No current tank is sturdy enough to survive a hit of that magnitude. Further ahead in the plans is to equip T-14 with a 152mm main gun. So it is not difficult to contemplate the havoc that 152mm gun would be able to wreak.

Armata’s gun can fire new 3UBK21 Sprinter ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) with an effective range up to 12KM and capability to engage low-flying air targets such as helicopters. By comparison India is planning to equip T-90 with a gun-launched ATGM having a range of 8km.

The secondary Armament includes Kord and PKMT Machine guns and all guns are remotely controlled. The tank’s turret might be fitted with a Shipunov 2A42 30mm Cannon to deal with various targets, such as attack planes and helicopters.

Lastly the power T-14’s engine generates to overcome challenges posed by any terrain, hilly or desert. The T-14 is powered by a ChTZ 12Н360 (A-85-3A) diesel engine delivering up to 1,500 hp. The engine’s theoretical maximum power, not normally used, is mind-numbing 2,000 hp, at the cost of though radically decreasing its service life.

At least one expert speculated that the transmission might be an electronically controlled mechanical gearbox with external reverse and demultiplier gears, giving the tank equal forward and reverse gear ranges.

Uniquely for a Soviet/Russian design, the transmission is joined with the engine into a single unit that can be swapped out in the field in just under 30 minutes.

While Armata answers most of Indian Army’s needs with enough scope for future upgrades, and it shall be able to be airlifted to upper reaches of Himalaya once India’s Il-76 transport aircrafts are re-engined with Aviadvigatel/Perm Motors PS-90A76 turbofans, it is worthwhile to look at what is happening elsewhere in the world. Moreover, a single-vendor situation should never be allowed to occur as it opens the door for exploitation and probably compromise with the quality of supplied hardware (or even software).

So, France and Germany have teamed up for the Main Ground Combat System and the prototype will be up for trials around 2030. By late next year, the US Army could field up to three manned and unmanned combat vehicles to choose a successor to M1A5 Abraham tanks, which would be eventually available around 2027.

Fourthly India may pool resources with Israel or South Korea to mutually develop a potent next-generation combat vehicle. In the joint-venture I see an alternative to rescue the Arjun-III tank as well.

Making of the less challenging, Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), on the other hand, with 40 percent indigenous component will be hopefully achieved with the participation of private sector.

Three Development Agencies will be shortlisted – Ordnance Factory Board and two private ones, each given Rs. 500 crore, and tasked to develop a prototype for modern armoured vehicle of Indian Army. So far, three companies including Mahindra and Mahindra, Reliance Defence and Engineering, and Titagarh Wagons have sent their proposals to Ministry of Defence.

If there also we falter and don’t measure up to the requisite exactitudes, we have Swedish CV90, UK’s Ajax, German Puma and a host of others lined up to import like Armata and rest of the things we do.

⏩ Conclusion :

The alternatives considered, my thoughts veer to the same old question – when will India be a manufacturer and supplier of cutting-edge defence technology at par with USA, Russia, Europe and even China now ? Yes, Chinese are in no hurry to go for T-14 Armata. In fact, a Chinese company Norinco claims their domestic VT-4 tank is superior to the Armata design in terms of mechanical reliability, fire control and unit cost.

Yes, China has surely arrived. India, the eternal laggard – among top few economies it might be thanks to a blooming population – sorrily hasn’t.

It is not just with the defence sector, it is with regards to many fields, we need to sit and do serious introspection on. Why an Indian Century, an Indian Era continues to elude us, though we are promising since last four decades? Why we have politicised every sphere of life and interfere where we have no business of doing ? Why funds dry up for critical projects when elections are not around the corner but otherwise are always available in abundance at the homes of politicos round the year? Why have we allowed such a work culture to seep to our bones where we are concerned with thoughts of I, my and me but otherwise blind to our collective moral duties? When shall we understand that while religion is OK, instead of wearing false sanctimoniousness on our sleeve, excellence in the field we have chosen, perfection in the trade we ply is a sublime and deeply spiritual experience? Why people come up and say, “You know the guy who developed F-22 engine was denied a job at HAL. ” ?

Why have we become a people that turn their champs away?

Why do we derive  sadistic pleasure at inhibiting productivity, creativity, freedom of thought, experimentation? Why don’t we break loose from the shackles of custom, tag of chokers and allow the optimum flowering of human spirit ?

Once we do that, may be then we will not need to redefine GDP Growth rates everytime a new government comes to power, may be then we will not need to manufacture jobs in papers that haven’t been  generated on the ground, and may be then we will not need to arrange PR teams to rev up flustering ‘make in India’s. May be then Arjuns will romp away as true-blue next generation FRCVs and we will not need to import Armatas.

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