The Union defence ministry is finally fast-tracking the long-pending mega ‘Make in India’ project to produce at least 2,610 future infantry combat vehicles (FICVs) for the Army at an estimated cost of about Rs 60,000 crore.
MoD sources said two of the five private contenders in the fray, apart from the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), “will soon be selected” to design and build prototypes for the FICVs.
The government will fund 80% of the development cost, which could be around Rs 3,000-4,000 crore.
“The best prototype will then be selected for mass production. The ministry’s integrated project management team (IPMT) is in the final stage of evaluating the EoI (expression of interest) responses submitted by the OFB and five private vendors,” said a source. The private contenders are L&T, Mahindra, Pipavav Defence & Offshore Engineering and two consortiums of Tata Motors SED-Titagarh Wagons.
Basically armoured personnel carriers designed to swiftly transport infantry soldiers into the battlefield behind tanks, the FICVs are meant to gradually replace the old Russian-origin BMP-II infantry combat vehicles in the Army. Though not as deadly and well-protected as main-battle tanks, the amphibious troop carriers will have their own anti-tank missiles, cannons and machine guns.
The 1.3-million strong Army, incidentally, has 63 armoured regiments of T-90S, T-72 and Arjun tanks, backed by 44 Mechanised Infantry units with their BMPs, for swift multiple ground offensives into enemy territory.
But the FICV project has so far failed to take off due to glitches and controversies since it was first accorded “acceptance of necessity” under the ‘Make (Hi-Tech)’ category in October 2009. The previous EoI, issued in May 2010, was cancelled by the MoD after major faults were found in the evaluation process in December 2012.
The MoD hopes similar mistakes with the fresh EoI, which was issued in July last year, will not be repeated. But while the IPMT has sought repeated clarifications from the contenders, it has not visited and inspected their manufacturing facilities for an on-ground assessment till now.
The EoI lays down the contenders will be assessed on four major counts: commercial, technical capability, availability of critical technologies and technical specifications of the FICVs they propose to build. The sheer size of the “lucrative” FICV project has even seen some countries hard-sell their infantry combat vehicles to India.
The US, for instance, has showcased its Stryker armoured vehicles during the joint ‘Yudh Abhyas’ exercises. But the government is pushing the Make in India project for the Army.