By Tom Waldwyn, Research Analyst, Defence and Military Analysis Programme
Twenty-four months after the Indian Army released a request for information (RFI) for its Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV), it has had to walk back overly ambitious requirements and issue a second RFI for a less grand but more achievable family of heavy armour.
The June 2015 RFI has been superseded by the document released in November 2017, which makes changes to a programme aiming to replace the Indian Army’s nearly 2,000 T-72M1 tanks with 1,770 FRCVs. The 11 variants from the 2015 RFI, for example, have been whittled down to five. Most notably, the ‘wheeled version’ included in the 2015 paperwork has been consigned to the dustbin, even if the ambition for a ‘Light Tank’ remains. The 2017 RFI also alludes to a ‘self-propelled base platform for other arms’.
It is unclear from the RFI what kind of ‘Light Tank’ the army has in mind. Developing a smaller and lighter version of the type selected to meet the main battle tank (MBT) requirement would, even if it were in any sense achievable, complicate development and inevitably increase costs. It is more likely that the separate Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) programme, intended to replace India’s BMP-2s, would supply a vehicle to fill this role.
The revised RFI calls for the baseline MBT platform to have a combat weight of between 42.5 and 58 tons, the same range as the in-service T-72M1s. This ‘essential’ characteristic is driven by the country’s geography and infrastructure. Although the RFI is open to proposals featuring a four-man crew and a 120mm gun, the country’s years of experience with three-man crews and 125mm guns on the T-72M1 and T-90S may incline India to stick with what it knows.
The army is looking for a foreign company to supply a ‘proven Armoured Fighting Vehicle’, and then plans to collaborate with a local partner who will build it in India. The requirements appear to limit the options to designs from South Korea, Japan and Russia. All of these, however, would present challenges.
South Korea’s K2 tank has been ordered by its armed forces in two batches of 100 but has yet to be exported. The first batch, fitted with German power packs, entered service in 2014. The second batch, with local Doosan DST engines, is stuck in testing with propulsion problems. Also yet to be exported is Japan’s Type-10. To date, it has been ordered domestically only in small numbers with a resulting average unit cost of US$11m.
The T-90MS is Russia’s latest variant of the T-90. India has license-built the earlier T-90S variant since the mid-2000s, with more than 1,000 now in service. However, Indo-Russian cooperation in this area has not been straightforward, with errors on both sides contributing to years of delays and high costs. If India were to continue acquiring the T-90, it would be logical to continue manufacturing them at the government-owned Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi.
Selecting the T-90MS to fulfil the FRCV requirement would mean the Indian Army choosing a largely homogenous fleet of T-90s, instead of a mixed fleet. In late 2016, India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved the purchase of 464 more T-90 tanks, with local media reporting that these were the T-90MS variant. If this is correct, it would suggest that the army considers the T-90 to be separate from the FRCV programme, thereby making the T-90MS an unlikely winner.
Although the T-14 Armata cannot be called ‘proven’, having yet to enter Russian service, the requirements set out in the RFI appear to make it a strong candidate. While introducing a partner into the Armata programme would be a complicating factor for Moscow, sharing the production costs and bolstering the order book would likely be welcome.
India’s FRCV programme is important because it is not just about replacing the T-72 but also about the army not committing to the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) tank projects. India’s Arjun I project, which dates back to the 1970s, suffered from years of delays and cost overruns before production ceased in 2009, with 122 of the 124 ordered tanks built. Since then, the DRDO has been working on an improved version, Arjun II. Although the DAC approved the purchase of 118 Arjun IIs in 2014, as of late 2017 a contract had yet to be signed. This is in part due to army resistance to the vehicle, owing to its heavy weight, which is reported to be 68.6 tons. Fundamentally, the army and the DRDO are competing to convince the country’s politicians that their MBT project deserves support.
This analysis originally featured on the Military Balance+, the new IISS online database that enables users in government, the armed forces and the private sector, as well as academia and the media, to make faster and better-informed decisions. The Military Balance+ allows users to customise, view, compare and download data instantly, anywhere, anytime.