The Army now wants advanced “shock and awe” capabilities in the shape of futuristic main-battle tanks, with a wide array of weapons, missiles and protection systems as well as “niche” technologies like “artificial intelligence” and “see-through armour” for the crew.
The Army has sought the response of foreign armament companies or OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) for the proposed mega “Make in India” project for induction of 1,770 “future ready combat vehicles (FRCVs)” in a phased manner. The global RFI (request for information) specifies the Army expects induction of the FRCVs by 2030 under the “strategic partnership” route with “comprehensive” technology transfer, including detailed design manufacturing know-how, to the Indian partner. The FRCVs will remain in service for the next 40-50 years as the Indian Army’s main battle tank, it says.
In conformity with the “emerging future threat spectrum and technological advancements”, the new “state-of-the art” and “technology-enabled” tank should be able to operate in varied terrains like high-altitude areas, plains, riverine and deserts, adds the RFI.
The RFI is sure to once again trigger the long-standing raging battle between the Army and DRDO over the indigenous Arjun tanks. The Army has for long resisted induction of the “extra heavy” Arjun tanks, which it contends has “maintenance and spares” issues.
The defence ministry in February had accorded the preliminary approval for the procurement of 118 improved Arjun Mark-1A tanks for Rs 8,379 crore. The 118 Arjuns will add to the first 124 such tanks inducted by the Army well over a decade ago, even as the DRDO remains keen to go in for a Mark-II version.
At present, the mainstay of the Army’s armoured regiments is the Russian-origin T-90S tanks. The force has so far inducted 1,200 of the 1,657 T-90S tanks being licensed produced by the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) at Avadi.
“The FRCVs, in turn, are supposed to be a replacement for the Army’s 2,400 older T-72 tanks. The plan is to induct them in phases to ensure upgrades can take place with technological advancements in warfare. The see-through armour, for instance, is for 360-degree situational awareness of the crew through cameras, sensors, digital mapping systems,” said an Army officer.
The RFI states that while enemy tanks will continue to be the primary target, the FRCVs should incorporate systems to negate ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems as well as counter new “aerial” threats like UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles), loitering munitions and the like. The FRCVs should have advanced “multipurpose smart munitions” both for main and secondary armaments, with gun tube-launched anti-tank guided missiles. The secondary armaments should include multiple weapons for anti-aircraft, counter-UAV and ground roles, with different calibers assisted with remote-control weapon stations, says the RFI.