The Future Infantry Combat Vehicle programme will be the biggest game changer for the Indian defence industry. It is an ambitious effort to design and manufacture a FICV indigenously with the support of private players and in collaboration with foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers. How soon can we see the induction of these platforms?

India’s future battles especially along the Western front are rumoured to have been structured around the disputed ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, which envisions launching blistering strikes deep into enemy territory. The Cold-Start itself is firmly believed to be structured around three crucial components – Mobility, Fire Power and Manoeuvrability, these components combined with the surprise factor is expected to provide India with unmatched battlefield supremacy in times of conflicts.

The lone arm that promises all these components is the Army’s Armoured Corps. While the Armoured Corps with their Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) punch through the defences of the hostile forces, it is crucial that the captured ground is retained for strategic purposes. This mammoth task is left for the Army’s largest fighting formation – the Infantry. However, for the Infantry to retain the captured ground, it is crucial that they are firstly ferried to ground-zero. It is also important that the Infantry is mobilised closely behind the Armoured formations. Thus, there exists a need for a platform that mobilises the infantry alongside the armoured formations retaining the mobility and manoeuvrability components.

The Kestral FICV that is being offered by Tata Aerospace and Defence; Courtesy - Tata Motors.
The Kestral FICV that is being offered by Tata Aerospace and Defence; Courtesy – Tata Motors.

This requirement of the Indian forces has traditionally been met by the Mechanised Infantry regiments of the Indian Army, which utilising Infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) have transported infantrymen to the heart of the battlefield. The ICVs, which feature substantial firepower and armoured protection, have worldwide served as battlefield taxi and have established themselves as force multipliers at operational levels.

Forming the backbone of India’s ICV fleet are the Russian origin ICV BMP-2 and 2k platforms. In service with the Indian forces since 1980s, these ICVs have provided the country’s infantry with unmatched mobility across their operational horizon. Even though more than three decades have passed since their induction to the Army, these vehicles are still the lone support platforms for the Army. Approximately, 1900 BMPs are still in service with the Indian Army and with the Ministry failing to find replacements, these platforms will continue to be at the heart of the Mechanised Infantry’s capabilities at least for the next decade.

The Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) program, which was drafted to manufacture replacements to the aging ICVs, has been hanging fire for decades now. Delays in the implementation of the SP model and several successive acquisition frame works have meant that there has hardly been any progress in the case for acquisition of these platforms.  Since its inception, the program has emerged as one of the most promising ventures for the country’s private sector.

It has been a saga of touch-and-go for the FICV program. Even though the hunt for these vehicles began in 2010 with the MoD floating an Expression of Interest (EoI) for procuring almost 2,600 FICV platforms, the search ended in 2012 after almost 20 months as the Ministry had failed to put in place a procedure for the selection of the winner.

After almost three years of further deliberation, the MoD in July 2015 floated the second EOI, which was received by about ten vendors. Even as the private sector braced for an imminent contest, the ministry in January, 2016 announced that the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and two of the down-selected private companies would make the prototype of FICV. The ministry has committed to fund almost 80% of the development cost for the developmental agencies. The down-selected platform is slated to enter mass production.

L&T, Mahindra, Reliance Defence, Tata Motors and Bharat Forge who are vying for the contract, have invested heavily to set-up reliable manufacturing capabilities in anticipation of the orders. While Tata Motors has partnered Bharat Forge and US-based General Dynamics for the tender, Mahaindra and Mahindra has decided to have BAE systems as its technology partner.

Modernised products like FICVs will support India in getting close towards the goal of being self-reliant in the defence manufacturing. The deployment of the product into the forces will boost the interest and confidence of the investors across the globe in being collaboration with Indian industry. At the time, when the global players have realised that the Indian defence industry is the one to watch and to be looked upon, the FICV project will exponentially increase the opportunities in Indian defence industry in Research & Development and will be able to develop ties with different tiers of suppliers. With the requirement of 2600 vehicles, FICV has turned out to be a strategic and crucial programme that would support mobility and lethality of the Indian soldiers in near future. With the private sector now going full steam ahead with the developmental programs, the onus is up on the Ministry to notify at least the primary steps to set in place the acquisition program.

Salient Operational Capabilities of FICV
Fire Power
Should be able to destroy enemy tanks at long rangesdestroy enemy ICV/APC, soft skinned vehicles and infantry soldiers with accurate cannon & machine gun firedestroy/damage significantly field fortificationsprovide direct fire support to the dismounted infantryfire from sides and rear while mounted
Should have matching mobility with all current and Future Main Battle Tanks over all kinds of terrainamphibious capabilitybe transportable by road, rail and by in-service aircrafts of IAF
Should be able totransport a combat mechanised infantry section along with crew of threeoperate in NBC environment and protect the crew and stick for at least four to six hours. generate smoke on its own to hide its own mov
Should provide all round protection from small arms fire and medium artillerysplinters and provide protection from direct cannon fire in the frontal arc. protection from under belly mines and IEDs.

Should havearrangements to communicate on two to three radio netsintercom facility for the crew as well as the stickbe able to communicate with the FICV when dismounted
NavigationHave an advanced land navigation facility based on GPS and/or Inertial Navigation System
Repair & MaintenanceIt should have a high mission reliability and facilitate easy repair and maintenance under field conditions.