NEW DELHI — India's ruling National Democratic Alliance government will award the first-ever "Make in India" category defense project for a tactical communication system (TCS) for the Army early next year, according to a senior Ministry of Defence (MoD) official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Under the program, two domestic development agency (DA) consortiums will be awarded contracts to build one TCS prototype each at a cost of $150 million in 18 months. The government will provide 80 percent of the funding for the prototype developments.

India has shortlisted state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), and private-sector firm Larsen & Toubro is set to team with Tata Power SED and HCL Ltd Technologies to build a TCS prototype.

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Once the two prototypes are handed over to the Indian Army, they will undergo technical evaluation, be tested on the ground and then shortlisted for production, said a senior Army official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The service plans to induct seven TCS systems for plains and desert areas at a cost of $4 billion in the next 10 years.

Each TCS prototype will include a transmission system; a field wireless system based on 4G Long Term Evaluation technology; routing and switching systems; multiple mobile-platform engineering systems; a network management system; and a security subsystem.

"The DAs will have to tie up with overseas defense companies to build Indian Army-specific 100 Mbps [megabits per second] transmission systems, in addition to other critical systems, and [the] rest of [the] systems they can build on their own," the senior Army official said.

The two DAs must be able to upgrade the fast-changing military communication technologies for the TCS, he added.

The Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics — part of the state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation — is developing a homemade security solution.

However, private-sector DAs have asked the MoD not to grant special favors to state-owned BEL in developing a TCS prototype.

"MoD has waived off the import duty in the case of BEL, but we have been asked to pay import duty on the products that we import from overseas, and this is simply unfair," said a private sector DA executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Additionally, the MoD wants to retain the intellectual property rights of the systems, but the private-sector DA is demanding that it should be vested with DA.

An Army official noted that TCS will be a dedicated strategic project, and the service will eventually sanitize the technologies built into the prototype and the final system.

But there is confusion among the DAs regarding how the Army will sanitize each of the technologies, either homegrown or imported, that will be incorporated in the TCS prototypes.

"We fear that sanitization by [the] Army will lead to direct interference in the developed of TCS prototype," the private-sector DA executive said.

DAs will also have to make undertakings from Overseas Equipment Manufacturers for unrestricted use of the imported technologies.

Conceived in 2000, the TCS program was delayed by 15 years due to a lack of clarity on the project's procedures.

TCS will replace the Army's obsolete radio communication network, the Plan AREN system.

Once a plain- and desert-friendly TCS is inducted, the Army will place an additional order of seven mountain-friendly TCS systems.


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