NEW DELHI — Russia is hoping to persuade India to shelve its $10 billion homemade Futuristic Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) project and instead buy Russian BMP-3 vehicles, according to an Indian Defence Ministry source.
Russia has offered to transfer BMP-3 combat vehicle technology to India if India cancels the FICV project, which has yet to take off four years after it was conceived. Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely make the offer during summit talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Dec. 24, the source added.
An Indian Army officer said buying BMP-3s on a license-production basis would make better sense because the FICV likely won’t be inducted in the next 10 years. In the meantime, India’s existing Russian-made infantry combat vehicles — BMP-1s and -2s — need upgrades, he said.
Putin was scheduled to visit New Delhi in November, but the visit was postponed. While no official reason was given, sources in the Indian Foreign Ministry said Moscow was reacting to a delay in the implementation of the Indo-Russian nuclear project in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state. In addition, the Russians want a greater share of the Indian defense market, which is shifting to the U.S. and other Western nations.
Under the FICV project, India will spend $10 billion to produce 2,600 vehicles to replace the older BMPs. The project falls into the “Make India” category, in which only domestic automobile companies can compete. The shortlisted company or consortium will develop the FICV prototype while the government funds nearly 80 percent of development costs.
The FICV project was approved nearly four years ago. Since then, domestic Mahindra Defence Systems has partnered with BAE Systems; Larsen & Toubro is also working on overseas partnerships. Tata Motors is also attempting to tie up with overseas companies after its deal with Rheinmetall stalled following India’s blacklisting of the German company’s Swiss subsidiary. State-owned Ordnance Factory Board is also in the race.
While Russia has partnered with India on several joint development projects — and moved away from mere “Buy and Make” weapons relations — India has had issues with complete technology transfer from Russia and has often complained about after-sales support, especially on spares and their prices. India and Russia are jointly producing the supersonic BrahMos anti-ship cruise missile and are under contract to jointly produce fifth-generation fighters and multirole transport aircraft. Russia has yet to transfer full technology of its T-90 tanks, which are license-produced here, another Indian Army officer said.
India’s MoD is also struggling to resolve timely supply of spares for Sukhoi and MiG-29 aircraft, Smerch multibarrel rocket systems, and upgrades to Kilo-class submarines and a variety of Russian air defense systems.
Indian defense forces have a large inventory of former Soviet and Russian weaponry, which they want to replace or upgrade soon. It is estimated that this market is worth more than $30 billion. And while Russia wants India to upgrade this inventory, the users — the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy — want to replace the weaponry with supplies from the U.S. and other Western nations.