NEW DELHI — India has launched a $4.8 billion program for the domestic production of 1,770 multipurpose future ready combat vehicles by private companies partnered with overseas original equipment manufacturers, but some leaders in the local industry are hesitant about what they consider an overly ambitious program that lacks clarity.
The CEO of a private Indian company, who spoke to Defense News on condition of anonymity, agreed with another who said: “The Indian government’s institutional ability and the slow decision-making process will certainly make FRCV program unrealistic. Besides, state-owned defense research agency, Defence Research and Development Organization, or DRDO, is pushing its own futuristic main battle tank, or FMBT, [which] will ... scuttle the [FRCV] program.”
However, an official with the Ministry of Defence sought to reassure industry concerns.
“The private industry should not have any fears on FRCV program, as lot of preparation has been made to launch it,” the official told Defense News, adding that “some private companies will be selected within the next two years as strategic partners.”
Last week, the Indian Army issued a request for information to overseas OEMs with a deadline of Dec. 20 for offers of technology transfer, building 40 percent indigenous content, and creating ecosystems, life cycle costs and upgrade plans to build the future ready combat vehicles, or FRCV, in partnership with private Indian companies.
A similar RFI was issued for FRCVs in June 2015, but the effort failed under DRDO pressure.
The Army plans to induct new FRCVs under a 10-year timeline to replace its fleet of Russian T-72 main battle tanks. According to the MoD official, the program is expected to assure work orders for the domestic private industry “for the next 40 years.”
The FRCVs will wight less than 50 tons and will have multiple variants, including the primary variant of tracked main battle tank; tracked light tank; wheeled version; bridge layer tank,; trawl tank and mine ploughs; armored recovery vehicle; self-propelled artillery gun/howitzer; air-defense gun/missile system; artillery observation post vehicle; engineer reconnaissance vehicle; and armored ambulance role.
Each FRCV is estimated to cost $4.68 million.
“Indian Army wants FRCVs similar to the Russian T-14 Armata, Ukrainian Oplot, French LeClerc and South Korean K2 Black Panther main battle tanks,” a senior Army official said.
At more than 60 tons, the German Leopard and the American M1 Abrams main battles tanks are too heavy and may not fit into the Army’s FRCV role, the official added.
Several OEMs ― including BAE Systems of the U.K., Doosan Group of South Korea, General Dynamics of the U.S., Krauss-Maffei Wegmann of Germany, Nexter of France, Polski Holding Obronny (formerly known as Bumar) of Poland, Rosoboronexport of Russia, and Ukrainexport of Ukraine ― are expected to participate in the FRCV program.
Likewise, several Indian private companies ― including Mahindra Group, Bharat Forge, Larsen & Toubro, Punj Lloyd, Tata Power SED, Tata Motors, Reliance Defence and Engineering Limited, Titagarh Wagons, and Tractors India ― have shown interest in manufacturing FRCVs in collaboration with foreign OEMs.
The local private companies have never built such a platform, and no partnerships have been announced.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.