The FICV Saga

The Indian Army is eager to get 1,750 FICV, for which RFI was issued for the third time on June 24, 2021. The proposed combat vehicle could be manufactured in India under the Strategic Partnership initiative.

Issue 5 - 2021 By Ranjit KumarPhoto(s): By Twitter / @narendramodi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inauguration of the facility

Wil the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ campaign weigh heavily in favour of Indian designed and made Future Infantry Combat Vehicles (FICV), the supply of which has long been delayed? Indian army has now told the mandarins in Ministry of Defence that in view of the retiring Soviet model Infantry Combat Vehicle BMP-2, it is now one of its most urgent requirements.

After the previous two tenders could not materialise, the last - third tender, was issued on June 24, 2021. Since the army wants them to be delivered as soon as possible, it has been proposed that the combat vehicle could be manufactured in India under the Strategic Partnership initiative of the Ministry of Defence. According to Army sources, the Indian vendors can collaborate with international manufacturers, which can deliver 75-100 vehicles per year within two years of the signing of the contract. The Indian Army wants them to be equipped with 30mm main Gun and anti-tank missiles along with other firepower and capable of carrying three or more crew and soldiers. The Indian Army is eager to get 1,750 FICV, which may cost around 60,000 crores.

The Request For Information (RFI) issued for the third time on June 24, 2021, has indicated that out of total supplies, roughly 55 per cent should be of Gun-version and rest would be specialist vehicles. The Specialist vehicles would deploy mini drones and kamikaze drones. Within two years after the contract has been signed, the Indian vendors can collaborate with the Overseas equipment manufacturers to supply 75-100 vehicles annually. The overseas vendors interested in this mega $8 billion deal are the Russian Rosoboronexport, South Korean Hanwha, Italian Leonardo and the German Rheinmetall.

The Army headquarter has proposed a three stage induction process.The proposed three stage induction process has delineated Stage-1 for Limited series production (LSP), which encompasses 10 per cent of total contracted vehicles to be supplied over a period of two years, which can be estimated as 75-100 vehicles annually. The Stage-2 encapsulates Product improvement. In this phase 40 per cent of the contracted vehicles should be delivered over a period of 6-7 years. The third final stage, will involve technical upgrades for the rest of the vehicles.

The response to RFI is being assessed, which includes several Indian and international vendors. Among the Indians, the principal claimant is the DRDO, whose combat vehicle developer arm CVRDE is reported to have projected it’s designed vehicle, along with Tata Motors and Larsen and Toubro. Concept design by Tata Motors has already been revealed to the public. But the DRDO has pitched in strongly with CVRDE designed combat vehicle. DRDO has told MoD that it has core competence in developing the required system and technology. Notably the Avadi (Chennai) based CVRDE (Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment) is the developer of India’s indigenous main battle tank Arjun, which is now being supplied to the Indian Army.

Senior officials and scientists of CVRDE are reported to have made presentations before senior officials of Army Headquarters and MoD, claiming that the Indian designed FICV can be a role model of Atmanirbhar Bharat. DRDO officials have offered to associate Army Design Bureau for jointly designing the FICV which can meet the Qualitative Requirement of the Indian Army. It will satisfy the needs of the Army Headquarters, which can work in tandem with the CVRDE engineers and designers. The Army Design Bureau is required to facilitate research, design and development efforts which can fill the aspirations of the army combat officials.

According to sources DRDO has claimed to Army Headquarters that they can produce the combat vehicle in four years, which will be futuristically designed to meet the combat needs of the army for years to come. MoD is reported to be in favour of the multibillion project be awarded to the CVRDE.

The first formal move was initiated by Indian army in 2009 with a proposal of its Mechanised Infantry Directorate being forwarded for urgent induction. In fact the FICV project was first moved in mid 2000. Then, the estimated acquisition cost of the project was around 26,000 crore and project to be completed by 2022.

But the project faced several roadblocks and also cost issues. The Army headquarters restarted the project in 2017 after independent monitors gave green signal to proceed with acquisition process. In view of the huge cost involved and relatively peaceful border, an alternative proposal was given serious considerations for upgrading the existing BMPs of Indian Army. In 2014 a fresh idea was mooted to ask the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to work on the proposal with the support of private sector companies. Several such private companies Tata Motors, Mahindra and Mahindra, and Larsen & Toubro etc came forward and gave their proposals to MoD in 2019. The OFB and the BEML have strongly pitched for the project under Make in India initiative of the Ministry of Defence. A decision to proceed with ‘Make in India’ stamp was agreed and MoD asked the opinion of the Army Headquarters. Since the project was initially approved under the Strategic Partnership model, the Indian Army moved ahead with this model in the latest tender.

The strategic partnership proposal can fast track the acquisition process of the FICV, but sources maintain that whatever the route, Indian Army will have to wait for next 7-8 years for its real positioning on the tensed borders of India with China and Pakistan.