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The Unending Saga of Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV)

Ritika Behal

Finally, the most awaited ‘Make-in-India project (FICV) has kickstarted again with the issuance of a new RFI and it is on the go, however the question remains as to will the program finally be taken off this time or will it again face delays due to bureaucratic decision making.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

The indigenous Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) for the Indian Army is in the news again with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) coming out with a new Request for Information (RFI) on 23rd June 2021 under the ‘Make-in-India’ initiative. The acquisition of having new modernized FICVs has been in plans for a long time and with the recent Ladakh stand-off the need to have modern troops’ carrier designed to destroy tanks and armored vehicles, only got more highlighted. The requirement is for 1,750 FICVs, worth Rs 60,000 Crores approximately, which will eventually replace the 1980s-era Soviet-designed BMP-2s currently in use with the 49 battalions of the Mechanized Infantry. This newly issued RFI is basically the third attempt in over a decade by the Army as the first formal process was initiated in 2008 by the Mechanized Infantry directorate. With issuance of the RFI third time, we sincerely hope  of it getting fructified into actual procurement this time.

The Turbulent Journey of the FICV Program

The proposal for the FICV Program began way back in mid-2000s when the need for having advanced FICVs was first mooted by the Indian Army and since then it has been hanging fire for over a decade now. Eventually, the programme was first approved in 2008 under the ‘Make Category’ of Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) – 2008, with up to 90% funding for prototype by the end-user (MoD/ IA). At that time the anticipated value for changing the outdated BMPs was round Rs 26,000 Crores with the delivery schedule slated for 2022. Subsequently, an Expression of Interest (EoI) was issued in 2010 to a number of firms which, however, was retracted in December 2012 after inconsistencies in the evaluation of the responses received.

After this in March 2014, a revised EoI was issued, to which 10 firms responded and eventually five were shortlisted including Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), Larsen and Toubro (L&T), Mahindra Group, Pipavav Defence & Offshore Engineering, Tata Motors-Bharat Forge consortium, Tata Power SED-Titagarh Wagons consortium. Out of these five, MoD had to decide two Development Agencies (DAs) or had to select two private sector firms that were to build two separate FICV prototypes in collaboration with the OFB in 24 to 36 months, which again did not see fructification. Rather, in 2016, the project hit a hurdle after a series of complaints by rival competitors over cost issues. Then, in 2018, the FICV project was shifted to ‘Make II’ Category under DPP -2016, wherein no funding is required to be made from MoD, with a view to expedite the project and promote ‘Make in India’ initiative in the Defence Sector. However, sadly even after putting it under the’ Make II’ category, no decision could be taken and the programme got stuck owing to procedural delays. There were differences seen between the Army and the MoD over the payment for the project and eventually it was put on the back burner.

Post these delays, now a third attempt has been made with the issuance of this RFI in line with the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP)- 2020, under the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ programs. The response to the RFI is expected in a couple of months’; after which the MoD will grant Acceptance of Necessity (AoN), before the Request for Proposal is issued (RFP). The FICV is going to be the mainstay of the Indian Army's mechanized forces with the Army planning to replace the current BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles by 2025.

A third attempt has been made by the MoD with the issuance of a new RFI in line with the DAP-2020, under the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ programs. The response to the RFI is expected in a couple of months’; after which the MoD will grant Acceptance of Necessity (AoN), before the Request for Proposal is issued (RFP).

Programme Schedule

The RFI as above, has been issued with an aim to finalize Service Qualitative Requirements (SQRs) for the FICV, decide the procurement category under the DAP and identify Indian vendors to commence supply of the equipment within two years of award of contract/ supply order. The RFI includes the Gun/ Command/ Command & Surveillance versions of the FICV (Tracked) in the ratios of 55%/20%/25% respectively. A three-stage induction model over 18 to 20 years is envisaged as under:

  • Stage-I is for Limited Series Production (LSP). In this around 10 per cent of the total number of vehicles will be delivered over a period of two years. This means 75-100 per year.
  • Stage-II is going to be Product Improvement. And around 40 per cent of the total number of vehicles are expected to be delivered spread over a period of six to seven years.
  • Stage-III, with technical upgrades and product improvement the balance number of vehicles will be delivered.

Further, it is desired that the FICV should have an operational life of at least 32 years with one overhaul/ repair intervention. The system is to operate in plains, deserts and HAA (up to 5000 m), by day and night in obtainable weather conditions, with at least 2.5 tons of combat load and operational range of 400 km on-road/ 300 km cross-country.  The operational requirements expected include destruction of intended targets; provision of protected mobility to the crew and troops (referred to as sticks) in above conditions/ in a contaminated environment and provision of fire support to dismounted sticks. The FICV should be transportable by road, rail and air and be modular in design, to ensure adaptability for subsequent product improvement. The vehicle specific configuration is as under: -

Indigenous Capabilities Likely Tie-Up for FICV by Existing Indian Production Agencies

Since, the programme is under the ‘Strategic Partnership’ (SP) route, so the Indian companies need to collaborate with the foreign OEMs as they do not have expertise and experience required in manufacturing and delivering the entire combat vehicle on their own. Following are the likely Indian companies that would be interested in bidding for this project - Mahindra Group, Larsen and Toubro, TATA group, Bharat Forge and OFB. Let us have a glance on them in terms what they offer in infrastructure/technology domain and the tie-up (if any) they have with a foreign OEM.

  • Larsen &Toubro- L&T is already partnering Korean firm, Samsung Heavy Engineering, for building the K-7 Thunder, self-propelled artillery gun, which will provide it access to armoured vehicle technologies. L&T may team up with Ashok Leyland Defence (ALD) on the vehicle chassis development to provide a credible plan to the Indian MoD for FICV. L&T also has tied up with Raytheon. However, they need to tie up for niche technologies such as missile, night vision and sighting systems and active protection systems.
  • TATA Group - Both TATA Motor Defence division and TPSED are part of Tata Advance Systems and have manufacturing Infrastructure. TATA group can bid a credible offering for FICV. They had also offered WhAP (FICV) (Tracked & Wheeled).They may co-opt General Dynamics (GD), as a technology partner, which has built US Army's M-1 Abrams tank and the Stryker ICV.
  • Bharat Forge - Bharat Forge Limited (BFL) and Paramount Group inked a pact manufacture armoured vehicles. Besides, BFL has tie up with Israeli electronics firm, Rafael, for FICVs missile, night vision and sighting systems and active protection systems.
  • Mahindra & Mahindra- M&M have manufacturing facilities for vehicles. With its JV with BAE Systems, they are likely to incorporate technology from UK-based BAE Systems. Mahindra might offer advanced FICV based on BAE IFV as it is closer in size and weight to the BMPs. Need to tie up for niche technologies such as missile, night vision and sighting systems and active protection systems.
  • Reliance The company neither have any experience in vehicle chassis design nor they have any infrastructure of that kind.
  • OFB-They have existing infrastructure, basic tech and necessary priority tie up with DPSU, DRDO and Russians.

Likely OEMS and their Product in Response to RFI

The OEMs who would be keen to respond to RFI most likely include: France Leclerc Nexter; Russia T-90 & T-14 Armata Uralvagonzavod marketed by Rosoboronexpo (ROE); South Korea K1 Hyundai Rotem; USA M1AX (Abrams) General Dynamics; Germany Leopard KMW and Rheinmetall; Ukraine T – 84 Malyshev Plant marketed by Spectstechno Expo; Italy Ariete Consortium Iveco and Oto Melara (Leonardo); Serbia M – 84 Yugoimport; Israel Merkava Mantak/ Israel Ordnance Corps; UK’s Challenger; and Turkey’s Altay Otokar.

Sub-System Technology Likely Partner

TATA, L&T, Mahindra Defence System and OFB were nominated in 2010 based on the EOI issued in 2009, though this EOI was cancelled in 2012. However, then their likely strategic partners covering all spheres of FICV development were as under. Even for the present RFI their partners may remain the same.

  • Tata - Orbital ATK – 30mm Gun and Ammo, Kongsberg - Turret – RWS
  • Larsen and Toubro (L&T)-Orbital ATK – 30mm Gun and Ammunition
  • Bharat Forge Ltd -Orbital ATK – 30mm Gun and Ammunition, Rafael – Turret (TBC)
  • Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M)-Orbital ATK – 30mm Gun and Ammunition
  • OFB-ELBIT
  • Rhinemetal Land Systems (RLS) And Raphael/BAE are also in the run

DRDO: Another Spanner in the Process?

While, the Army is envisioning the project under the SP route; the DRDO has also now entered the arena and is pitching to design FICV. DRDO have been having rounds of meetings with the Army and the Ministry of Defence officials to convince them about their capabilities to develop such a platform. They are trying to involve Army Design Bureau with CVRDE to monitor the development of the new armored vehicle. Some of the officials of the mechanized force of the Indian Army are also recommending the FICV should come to the DRDO.

While, the Army is envisioning the project under the SP route; the DRDO has also now entered the arena and is pitching to design FICV. This move is enough for one to contemplate that with DRDO and OFB in picture now, will it be another bureaucratic move and the project landing in their lap which has often been the case in the past or will the private sector will be given a fair chance.

All this is enough for one to contemplate that with DRDO and OFB in picture now, will it be another bureaucratic move and the project landing in their lap which has often been the case in the past such as Agni Missile, F-INSAS, Project 75, Project 15 and many others. And what about the private sector - L&T, Mahindra, Reliance Defence, Tata Motors and Bharat Forge - who are vying for the contract since over a decade and have invested heavily to set-up reliable manufacturing capabilities in anticipation of the order.

It needs to be highlighted that the FICV project which was conceived over a decade ago was aimed to involve the private sector in the defence sector which has been till date a DRDO/DPSU monopoly. Though, the MoD is yet to take a final call with regards to the involvement of the DRDO/OFB in this project, nonetheless if it gives in then definitely it will give unfair advantage to the already over loaded OFB also giving a clear indication of their clout. To this extent, lobbying by DRDO by pitching at this stage of the FICV program, is neither unique nor surprising as this has been the ‘common scenario’ over the years, hardly any private company has been awarded any major defence order. Earlier also certain much hyped 'Make in India' projects involving private sector such as Tactical Communication System (TCS) and Battlefield Management System (BMS), are seen to be in limbo even after years. Seems like that the Government, is not interested in giving private sector a fair chance which has been proving their mettle. Some of the specific examples of private sector demonstrated capability being Arty Guns K-9 Vajra and M-777 ULH in partnership with OEMs and Pinaka development by Tata Power SED and Larsen & Toubro and ATAG 155 mm Gun in a partnership of Private sector with DRDO.

Source: TATA Motors

The fact of matter is that MoD keeps on overlooking the fact that to have a robust DIB, it is essential for any country to have a strong and active private sector in defence manufacturing as well as R&D. World over it is the mostly the private sector which is the mainstay of the defence production. However, in India this has not been the case even though the private sector has been proving its mettle they are often sidelined and not given fair chance for competing with these government owned production agencies. Most of the times the reason cited is due to so-called deep-set security concerns.

It will be worthwhile to point out that most of the private manufacturers lack the incentive to enter and invest into the defence sector considering the risk on returns, the creation of a manufacturing base being highly capital and technology intensive coupled with having long gestation period, irregular flow of orders, lack of resources and infrastructure, rigorous policies/tax systems together with lack of economies of scale in production. Thus, involving DRDO/OFB will only further demoralize their participation / contribution in building an indigenous Defence Industrial Base (DIB) which is the need of the hour.

Sum-Up

Understandably, that at present neither the DRDO nor any of the Indian private sector company have the required technology except building the Hull Turret. Even DRDO built Arjun MBT has all important technology being imported. Technologies needed for the FICV are presently beyond the vendors, e.g., an indigenous engine, or transmission system, IFCS, GUN, Special ammunition etc. So, it would be advisable for the Defence Ministry to consider all the factors including of sensitive indigenous capability development, as well as addressing critical operational void, and then take up the right decision. Important issue on ToT would be comprehensive indigenous solution to provide the life cycle support and future upgrades and maintenance. The premise should be development of the Indian Defence Industry and making India self-reliant in terms of technology development and not just become another bureaucratic decision which can derail the project further affecting the preparedness of the Army. It should also be considered that over the years except the estimated project costs-from an estimated Rs 26,000 Crores in 2009, to over Rs 60,000 Crores today and induction timeline from 2022 to now 2025-26, nothing has changed – with the project still awaiting to have a ‘Start’. Thus, MoD must not waste any more time and expeditiously progress the FICV case, with due responsibility and accountability.

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