India wants to replace its Russian-made BMP vehicles. (Getty Images)
NEW DELHI — India’s Defence Ministry is considering restarting a US $10 billion infantry vehicle replacement program in order to include more domestic defense companies as potential bidders.
The Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) program is likely to be among the first major decisions by the new government voted in last month, an MoD source said.
The Indian Army wants to produce 3,000 vehicles to replace upgraded Russian combat vehiclesat a cost of over $10 billion under the FICV program, first conceived in 2009.
Under the “Make India” arrangement, the government will finance up to 80 percent of the cost of the prototype, to be built by two short-listed development partners. After the prototype is put to trial and evaluated, one development partner is selected to produce the futuristic vehicles.
After the program was conceived in 2009, India’s domestic defense major Mahindra & Mahindra created a joint venture with BAE Systems. Also, Larsen & Toubro, Tata Motors and state-owned Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) gave their detailed report to the MoD nearly three years ago, but no development partner has been short listed so far.
The program will be restarted to include private-sector firms Bharat Forge, Punj Lloyd, Force Motors and Ashok Leyland. The new domestic companies will be included in the FICV program and a fresh “acceptance of necessity” will be approved under the Make India category, the source added.
The overseas firms likely to join the domestic ones include Rafael of Israel, Nexter and Thales of France, General Dynamics of the US, Rosoboronexport of Russia, Doosan Group of South Korea and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann of Germany, according to an industry source.
The proposed FICV will have a combat weight of less than 20 tons, amphibious capability, a third generation fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missile, automatic grenade launcher and co-axial machine gun.
After the approval of the acceptance of necessity and inclusion of more domestic defense companies, detailed reports will be submitted to the MoD by the end of year, after which two development partners will be shortlisted. Those two entities have three years to build the prototype. The selection of a single vehicle producer will be made in four to five years, the MoD source added.
“Since the MoD has no previous experience of making weapons under the Make India category, it is likely that the whole program will get bogged down in bureaucratic details at a later stage, and there is every possibility of the FICV program becoming a non starter,” said Nitin Mehta, New Delhi-based defense analyst.
In 2012, the FICV program went into limbo after the Russians offered their BMP-3 infantry combat vehicle if the FICV project was scrapped. The MoD has since rejected the Russian offer of scrapping the FICV because the domestic defense companies have already invested heavily in the program, the MoD source added.
The Army is using the Russian-made BMP-1 and BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, which are slotted for midlife upgrades.
The Army will need advanced vehicles to replace the upgraded BMP-2 in another 10 years, said an Army official, who hoped that by then the FICV program will be in the production line. ■