The Future Ready Combat Vehicle is planned to be procured under the provision of 'Strategic Partnership' to cater for future battlefield environment and technological possibilities. It would provide the base on which a 'family of vehicles' to the various arms of the Army.
Recently, the Ministry of Defence, has decided to procure approximately 1770 Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV) in a phased manner. It will be a new generation, contemporary state-of-the-art combat vehicle platform and this project is likely to include transfer of technology, engineering support package, training aggregates, spares package and 10 years performance based logistics etc. This will form the base platform for the Main Battle Tank (MBT) and will subsequently develop other need-based family of variants on this platform. The Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) is planned to be procured under the provisions of the Armoured Fighting Vehicle segment of 'Strategic Partnership' route as per Chapter - VII of Defence Procurement Procedure -2016. The indigenous manufactured portion of the procurement is to be manufactured in India, based on design to be provided by the foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEMs) to the selected Strategic Partner.
FRCV project was conceptualized in 2013-14 by the Indian Army. Initially this project was not considered traditional but indeed it was a bold move by the DG Mechanised Forces to have country's own MBT as per its own war doctrine, strategy & requirements. So far, the country has been importing AFVs, irrespective of whether it meets our design philosophy & requirement or not and once procured then strategies are altered to suit our doctrine, which is not the right approach. To ensure that the next generation AFVs are designed as per Indian doctrine, the Indian Army (IA) had issued the first RFI on 08 Jun 15 basically for designs for the FRCV, which should cater to 'future' battlefield environment and technological possibilities and at the same time it should provide the base on which a 'family of vehicles' to the various arms of the Army. As per reports number of presentation were given by various OEMs on design as response to this RFI.
To take it further, the Defence Ministry has issued a global Request for Information (RFI) on 08 Nov 2017 for development and manufacturing of FRCV under the 'Strategic Partnership' model in collaboration with an Indian partner. Under the joint development plan, the design will be provided by the Foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers. To send a clear message that they are serious, the MoD has also stated that the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the acquisition is likely to be issued by Mid-2018. This will be the 4th Strategic Partnership project being initiated by the Govt of India, others being, helicopters, combat aircraft and 75I project.
At present, the T-72 and the T-90 tanks, both procured from Russia and assembled in India, are the mainstay of the Indian Army. However, it consists largely of T-72 tanks which were inducted in early eighties and have lived their life. The Indian Army will need to start replacing them after about a decade or so from now. Accordingly, in past, the requirement for Futuristic Main Battle Tank (FMBT) was taken up in 2010 by the Indian Army, keeping in view the development and evaluation time, however, till 2014 the Army remained undecided about the basic features of the FMBT and did not finalized its Staff Qualitative Requirements. This is how the FRCV concept came into existence.
To address the future scenario and the envisaged force profile the latest RFI has been taken out to lay down the Provisional Staff Qualitative Requirement (PSQR) for the FRCV, which consists of two parts as under:
In conformity with the emerging threat, operational scenarios, and the technological advancements in the tanks, the Indian Army will induct a new 'state of art' 'technology enabled' medium weight class tank, through the 'Strategic Partnership' route as part of the Modernisation Plan. FRCV will form the base platform for the Main Battle Tank which will be a Medium Weight Class Tank (50Tons±15%), will remain relevant for the next 40-50 years and subsequently develop other need-based family of variants on this platform.
Essential Parameter of the RFI
Other detailed requirements are spelt out in the RFI.
No western country has gone in for radical design change in their AFVs in the last decade or so except Russia who have recently unveiled their Armata T-14 Main Battle Tank, based on the Armata universal combat platform which represents a radically new approach to armoured vehicle design. The tank features cutting edge technologies: an unmanned turret, active defences, an isolated crew capsule in the hull, and remotely fired weaponry. Whereas, the western countries have gone in for modernizing their existing tank fleet with better vetronics, like Challenger has gone in for a lethality improvement.
The weight class as defined in the RFI is going to be almost 60T which is no different from Arjun MBT. As Arjun also started with 60T and finally touched almost 70T. The QRs asked for in the RFI is very tough but fortunately IA has understood that all these parameters will add on to weight and they have been considerate enough to raise the weight class to 57.5T, earlier it was thought to be within 50T. However, IA will have to ensure that it does not exceed the defined weight otherwise it will another MBT Arjun in the making.
Turret systems have traditionally been the norm for AFVs, with the commander or gunner operating within. However, the asymmetric threats from Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPG) are forcing the crew to remain within the vehicles to improve survivability. One trend is the proliferation of Remote Weapon Stations (RWS) which enables the crew to operate the weapon from within the better protected hull. With present-day military campaigns devolving into grinding urban combat against hardened insurgents, the capability to fire a heavy machine gun across all elevation angles through independently stabilized sights, operated remotely from within the crew compartment is becoming increasingly crucial.
The use of automatic gun-loading mechanism in place of a manual loader results in lack of space and the configuration of the autoloader make it impossible for the tanks to use heavy, one-piece ammunition rounds. Instead, a different type of round consisting of two separate pieces, the propellant charge and projectile, is an APFSDS-T round employed restricting the length of the KE penetrator and thus reducing the penetrating power.
The gun-launched missile, too suffers from certain limitations, chief among them being the guidance mechanism as the tank's fire control system has to illuminate the target throughout its flight thus preventing the gunner from acquiring other targets while the missile is in flight, and exposes the tank to counter fire as it comes into the enemy's line of sight.
With the growing reliance on C4I systems, there is the need for integration of the various sub-systems and would therefore require robust and extensive vetronics architecture. On the modern battlefield, Armies are moving towards Network-Centric Warfare (NCW) where forces no longer fight as individual entities but as part of a larger system. Each entity becomes a node in a network where information can be shared, and firepower can be called upon request.
The erstwhile FMBT project was being developed by Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE), laboratory of DRDO under category “Make Indian” with an approximate development cost of $1110 million (Rs 5000 crores). The cost of each FMBT is expected to be about $ 5.5 million (Rs 30.25 crore) indicating a market of over $ 11 billion (Rs 60000 crore) for 2000 tanks. The FRCV may cost more initially, as design & development cost will be included in it, however, on mass production the overall cost is likely come down. Now the FRCV and FICV being under 'Make' category, which means only Indian companies would be allowed to participate, are going to be game changers for the private industries as it will be worth over $ 20 billion. The up gradation of existing fleet of AFVs/ICVs for the next 15 years is likely to have a market for another $5- 10 billion and balance to cater for the other variants of Combat Vehicles. During the next 10 years cycle i.e. 2017-2027, it is anticipated that the Army is likely to get capital budget allocation of Approx$200 billion. Taking reference to past allocations it can be safely estimated that the Mechanized Forces will get roughly 20% of the Army Capital budget i.e. $40 billion during this period
As we enter the CBRN age, the AFV still has a strong role to play as seen in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in the 2000s. As technology advances, the AFV must also keep up with the changes and be ready to adapt and evolve to face these new challenges. The FRCV concept floated by the IA is not traditional but seems to be a bold move as the product will be as per their war doctrine & requirements.
IA's recent RFI for FRCV raises several questions: Is our industry capable of affecting a turnaround and seeing the program through to completion? Are the production facilities capable of meeting the demands of large-scale deployment? Do they have the resources to sort out teething troubles with new technologies quickly and roll out fixes across the entire fleet? With the past experience, success will be determined not so much by its design specifications, but more by the industry's ability to perform and deliver a working product on time. The decision to firm up the design of this platform through global tender is a step in the right direction and with 'Make in India' concept this may become a reality taking the country closer to self-reliance in defence sector. Though the present RFI has taken care of number of issues and hopefully this project should see the light.