Army’s new battle tank proposal sets stage for MoD tussle - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 21 June 2015

Army’s new battle tank proposal sets stage for MoD tussle

India's future tank faces thorny path, as army seeks to replace DRDO with foreign designer

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Jun 15

Over the last three decades the army has first ignored, and then opposed the indigenous Arjun tank, designed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO). Now, this fight has entered a second generation, with the army scuttling the DRDO’s proposal to design the next-generation Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT).

In a blow aimed at the FMBT proposal, the army has floated a global Request for Information (RFI) asking tank manufacturers to submit proposals to design a “new generation, state-of-the-art combat vehicle platform” for India.

The new tank will not just replace the army’s 2414 obsolescent T-72 tanks, but also constitute a “base platform” that would be modified into 10 other variants, including tracked and wheeled light tanks; bridge laying and trawl tanks; a mobile platform for artillery and air defence guns; a combat engineering vehicle, and even a tracked ambulance.

This proposal has been named the Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) project. Army sources say this name has been selected to clearly differentiate it from the DRDO’s FMBT project, which will no longer be supported.

The FRCV proposal RFI originates from the “Directorate General of Mechanised Forces” (DGMF). Dated June 10, it was posted on the internet a few days later.

FRCV is a direct blow to “Make in India”, replacing not just the indigenous FMBT project but potentially also the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) project that is being tendered shortly to Indian vendors under the “Make” category of the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP).

FRCV would divert lakhs of crores of rupees from Indian to foreign vendors. The FMBT project --- which the government told parliament on December 6, 2010, would be completed by 2020 --- could itself be worth Rs 1,50,000 crore. This includes about Rs 25,000 crore for designing, development and testing the new tank, and then replacing the army’s 2,500-odd T-72 variants for about Rs 50 crore each.

Separately, replacing the army’s 2,600 BMP-II infantry combat vehicles would cost another Rs 50,000 crore. Currently the indigenous FICV project covers this replacement.

The new FRCV proposal has several dubious firsts. Unprecedentedly it lays down no specifications for the new tank, leaving it to the foreign designer to propose its form and capabilities. The RFI vaguely states that the “design must cater for ‘future’ battlefield environment and technological possibilities”.

Traditionally, buyers of military equipment specify precisely what they need, placing the onus on the vendor to meet those requirements. In the case of tanks, users specify weight, the guns and missiles they want, their strike ranges, how much armour protection is needed, etc. However, in the FRCV, only a “broad design philosophy” will be specified to the vendors.

“Tanks are not designed by philosophers, but by engineers. The military needs to translate its operational philosophy into weapon systems, and to clearly specify to designers the capabilities that are needed. The problem is the generals themselves can’t agree what they want, and so they want the designer to tell them”, says a senior officer involved in the FRCV process.

Business Standard learns that a key reason for this lack of consensus within the armoured corps (which operates tanks) is that, for a decade, each of its director generals has brought his own ideas, overruling the ideas of his predecessors.

A second problem with the RFI is that it violates the DPP in the process it lays out for designing, developing and manufacturing the FRCV. The three-stage process envisaged is: (a) an international design competition, with vendors “asked to submit detailed designs based on the FRCV design philosophy”. A ministry selection committee would select the best design; (b) development of a prototype by “nominated” development agencies (DAs), separate from the designer, but with the designer’s “close involvement”; (c) the bulk manufacture of the FRCV by “one/two nominated Production Agencies (PAs).

There has been no such case in recorded procurement history where one agency has designed a product, another has developed the prototype, and a third has carried out mass manufacture. Defence vendors only undergo costly and laborious design and development when they are confident of making profits through bulk manufacture.

Since there is no provision in the DPP for the proposed three-stage process, the ministry’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) would have to sanction a DPP deviation. Civil servants in the ministry say there is little chance of that, given that the DRDO, confident after building the Arjun, would steadfastly oppose a foreign-led process.

“We will support the DRDO, since this involves “Make in India”, a senior defence ministry official told Business Standard. The army’s future tank programme seems poised for significant delays.


  1. Such moves by our own Army to undermine our indigenous design and manufacturing capabilities would not have been possible unless supported by the political and bureaucratic classes. This move coming merely months after Russia unveiling it's Armata surprises no one. It is redux of Pilatus Vs. HTT40 controversy all over again. It seems people who are supposed to be the role models with regard to patriotism and leadership are falling over one another to rob the nation in the name of "defense" and "make in India".
    With such kind of kleptocratic military and political leadership, how safe is India? If such daylight robbery continues in the name of defense by a cabal of corrupt Pvt companies; foreign arms merchants; corrupt bureaucrats, politicians and military top brass how long will this be tolerated by a very diverse, over populated and extremely poor nation like India?
    More than 40% of our total expenditure goes only towards defense or allied activities which are a drain to the exchequer and in no way add value to a nation of 1.3 billion, with 200 million facing starvation, more than 500 million without access to basic sanitation, health and education facilities. Is it any wonder that only 25% of our graduates are considered "employable"?

  2. Indian Army is like a Trojan Horse. On the outside it appears to be defending the nation, on the inside it is involved in massive loot as there is scant accountability or responsibility wrt it's functioning and operations.

  3. All it takes to make Arjun a winner on battlefield is private sector involvement in manufacturing and assembly whilst DRDO continues to develop it from a design and technology angle.

  4. Ghorcharrah Gabbar22 June 2015 at 00:33

    The 'FRCV Cell' is probably one-man-and-a-dog, and it shows in the shoddy piece of hog wash that the Army refers to as an RFI. The RFI mentions that 'The evaluation and selection of the best design will be carried out by a Design Selection Committee, under the aegis of DGMF... The selection will be based on detailed and comprehensive Evaluation Criteria. - I wonder how ? When the Army cannot even specify even baseline design parameters in the RFI (don't expect the RFP to be any different), how can this 'empowered, and enlightened' Design Selection Committee assess and shortlist designs ? Clearly there is substantial disconnect here.

    The RFI made good Sunday 'potty' reading. I mean, how silly can we get... for instance take paragraph 5 of the RFI that reads in parts as under:-

    5. While the detailed guidelines and the operational requirements/design philosophy of the FRCV will be articulated later, the broad framework of the proposed Design Competition is as under:-

    (a) ... open to tank design bureaus/ agencies from within and outside the country, and will be conducted in two stages.

    (b) In the first stage, based on the operational requirements and design philosophy given out, participants will submit broad concept designs, giving out the outline configuration and layout of the platform.

    (c) In the second stage, shortlisted participants will be asked to submit detailed designs of the FRCV platform on a common software platform. ... The best design(s) will be shortlisted in order of innovative design and suitability for Indian Army. The winning design(s) will carry suitable cash prize(s).

    Quite apparently, the author(s) of the RFI are sure that tank designers and bureaus around the world are idle, unemployed and ripe to be baited by the offer of a 'cash prize' by an International Tank Design competition. Shankar's international on-the-spot painting competition, anyone ? Detailed designs are required to be submitted on a 'common software platform'? Ah ha ! AutoCAD ? Photoshop ? PowerPoint, I bet ! I bet that the Tank Design Bureaus are busy hiring illustrators and Manga artistes to conjure up illustrations of multi-barrel force-shield protected FRCVs.

    The dumb-founding obsession with 'Western borders' continues ('on either side of the Western border') Dumb shit ! When the Indian Armoured Corps should be looking to fill equipment gaps for employment in the North-East, high altitude and expeditionary deployment, it looks West... i.e. no further than the Western borders.

    The 'Dimensions' ignore any reference to air and maritime transportability.

    The 'Crew' are not expected to have overlapping responsibilities. Shit ! In all modern MBTs the crew have overlap of responsibilities and crew duties; gunner takes over from an injured tank commander and vice-versa, a loader is supposed to take over from an injured driver, a tank commander takes over from an injured loader. The Hunter-Killer concept is a manifestation of such overlap. Pre-contact surveillance is a shared crew responsibility.

    The 'Firepower' aspect speaks of matching contemporary MBTs. Where is the Future aspect ? Firepower should exceed contemporary MBTs. Just check the semantics used in describing firepower criteria... the author does not even know the difference between FRHP and SSKP.

    There was an article I read sometime in the Indian Cavalry Journal last year that discussed MBT design and development options for the Indian Armoured Corps. Without agreeing or disagreeing with the article, I can state with authority that it made better potty reading than the present RFI.

    God save the Indian Armoured Corps. No wonder their noses are being rubbed into the ground everyday by the infantry and artillery. With such shit in their heads, the Indian Armoured Corps deserve it.

  5. Evident from the comments above; none understand tanks, warfare, military, defence production or procurement. They accuse military of corruption baselessly without knowing where corruption lies and who suffers. Military unfortunately has very little say in the decision making and have to make do with the lowest bidder or substandard stuff provided by DRDO. This approach will bring better technology, generate new jobs and provide better equipment at reasonable cost.

  6. Will Generals... control & rights... final design... they order... as IA generals go... hoodwinked... both... enemy and firms... Dabba Generals of IA...

  7. The above comments on 40 % expdr on defence seems to be unfounded.
    As for the contention with regard to corruption, one is advised to look into the actual procedures and compare the say the Armed Forces actually has in the financial aspect. Not denying the uniformed are involved but the sheer audacity and lack of accountability of the MoD babus stands testimony to the fact that such disparaging remarks on the bad apples in uniform does not bode well in a hypocritical society where corruption is in our way of life. Corruption is quite miniscule by Indian standards in the Armed Forces and wherever it occurs the uniformed personnel usually finds himself at the short end of the stick with thr civilian employee of MoD getting the lions share starting from the petty clerk at CDAs to the highest level.
    As far as the development by DRDO is concerned, the fault lies with the user and the DRDO.
    User unable to furnish requirements accurately or constant revisions while the DRDO scientists ensure their career paths based on limited annual progresss and longevity for petty fiefdoms.

  8. Words fail me in condemning this utterly nonsensical and blatantly foreign-serving action by the Indian Army.

    If the PM is serious about "Make in India," he must declare this so-called 'FRCV' to be a DRDO project with mass-manufacture thrown open to private players. Instead, what's happening is foreign designs will be licence-assembled in India, presumably by private players.

    There may be something more sinister in this. Could it be that the private sector, not wanting to partner with DRDO, but a foreign design agency instead, is behind all this ? Did they lobby with the Army / MoD to float the FRCV and its 10 versions, so that 10 different private players will obtain contracts for 10 different vehicles ?

    The army's insistence on ploughing along weary, old T-72s, while nitpicking on Arjun Mark 2's "improvements" is akin to the Air Force's continued patronage of MiG-21s, while nitpicking on the far superior Tejas. Unfortunately, the lay public does not understand the technical merits/demerits of all this. On top of it, the demi-god status of the armed forces further blinds them to glaringly obvious malfeasance.

  9. I agree with manne, let manufacturing and assembly go to 1 PSU and 1 private company and let the orders be large. Overnight this tank would become a winner

  10. @Manne

    Of course, Pvt sector which excels in havala and undertable dealings will help pay bribes to our generals and politicians which will be added to the final price of the product after adding hefty profits for the "private sector". And all this, including cost of developing the product will be footed by the taxpayers. With citizens like you, it's no wonder India was under foreign rule for more than 1000 years.

  11. You must work with what you have today. If the DRDO is not ready today, you cannot wait to plan what's best for the army once the DRDO becomes ready. Ajai, you are entitled to your views. You are not in the army and have not been for years. Somebody gave you information based on their limited knowledge and you wrote a full article on it. As a journalist and an ex-army officer, you must view your story from both sides of the coin. I'm a fan of your work as a journalist however, this article appears to have been based on information you received from people who want to defame the army.

  12. Capt. S.R. Bhate22 June 2015 at 06:57

    It's time that Indian Generals are given a clear directives and a framework withing which they operate. They should also be asked some real tough questions and to told to really justify what they are putting in their 'wish list'.
    They should look at how Indian Navy is modernising itself. Lots of lessons there for our Generals.

  13. Arjun is a piece of crap. Rather than wasting public money on useless and late, old tech...we should have opted for a more stable and effective platform like the Leopard or Abrams to begin with. Sure it would he expensive but our Army would at least have god gear rather than waiting 30 years for a bloody decent tank

  14. Interesting that the RFI talks of a family of armoured vehicles based on a common chassis, which is the foundational principle of Russia's Armata too. Even more interesting that it comes right after the public release of the Armata specs. Looks like translate/ copy/ paste is a legitimate form of specification creation in the DGMF.

  15. @Anon 01:19

    Your comment shows your ignorance and obsession with anything that is "phoren". Are you completely unaware how Arjun MK1 beat T90 in almost all parameters?? And by the way, if you even give a casual glance at Arjun you will know that it is an Indianized "Leopard 2A4" aka "world's best tank".

  16. @Anon 19:10

    If you're indeed a serving army officer then the nation has much to worry about. DRDO today has successfully designed and built complex weapons systems like nuke subs, stealth destroyers, ICBMs, MBTs etc etc.
    DRDO is ready for last more than a decade to reverse India's arms import trend. What's standing in the way is our corrupt military and politicians for whom kickbacks from huge arms imports run into 100s of million $s. No wonder there is such fierce opposition to institutions like DRDO, HAL, OFBs, ADA etc from our own criminal semi literate "chalta hai" netas and military top brass. With officers of such poor quality leading our troops is it any wonder that they are frequently being beaten up by their own jawans?

  17. Anon @ 22jun0950. Sir, you might like to consider how many HTT 40 prototypes have been rolled out (hint : NONE) versus how many pupils have been trained so far on the Pilatus. Just saying...

  18. @ Gabbar. Very well said - your argument is logical and sound.

  19. @Anon 11.04

    Our pilots have been trained for decades on Deepak HPT32. How different is Deepak from Pilatus? Now it seems Pilatus is basically an assembly of several subsystems which are from different OEMs from different countries. And like always, our military and MoD have kept enough loopholes in the contract, for Pilatus to literally walk away without any after sales service ... thereby raising the life time cost and hassles of maintaining this trainer several times more than what was falsely claimed both by Pilatus and our IAF chiefs at the time of selecting this trainer. Ultimately, who pays the price?

  20. All Crap comments on a Crap "paid for article" from an old crap Mud corps spoilt officer. Why does he not say that was an "op add"..or that present DGMF does not call him for the parties.

    A sample of the crap :

    Tanks have no philosophy - as if many tank thinkers in Germany, Russia, UK and USA were bloody fools. Race to Swift - by Richard E. Simpkin, a seminal philosophical treatise on use of armour is a crap. As if B. H. Liddell Hart was a scoundrel.

    Tank design agency is in not an independent and separate agency - holly crap and pure bullshit. It is only in India where DODOs are monopolists.

    RFI should contain specifications - as if tank is pre designed by DGMF and he is merely meeting requirements of procedures..

    Medium Tank - what is that? as if it is a new rabbit out of the hat instead well established concept.

    The author is behaving like an uneducated reservationist DODO who can only write on internet.

  21. @Anon 10:55

    Do you also forget how the Arjun Mk1's turret kept falling off during desert trials in Rajasthan. Secondly it's not a question of 'Phoren' or 'desi' gear...its a matter of providing our forces with the best gear in a shorter time frame...if it's gonna take 30+ years to develop a basic tank or a fighter jet...its a waste. Our jawans are stuck with crappy equipment. Secondly why design an Indianised 'Leopard'? Why not create something original? So it's ok to create a cheap useless foreign knock off rather than buying the original thing? Not to mention the time span involved. The army hardly has latest tanks. How long can we remain dependant upon the T 90? High time we provide the best gear for our forces foreign or desi, and in the right span of time.

  22. Some points regarding of both parties the DGMF and DRDO.

    1. In all fairness, the DGMF should have given general parameters for the designers to abide by. Physical parameters, Mobility parameters, Firepower Wishlist and parameters, crew protection and employment, comforts portability , communication parameters. all these are quantifiable and a base line can be provided. anything better than theses parameters can be considered.

    2. If DRDO has come of age, then it must participate actively. Maybe they can discuss a Joint venture with another vendor and bid.

    3. DRDO has slept on its potential with Tank EX and now the army has had enough. When DRDO can develop a full featured tank like Arjun Mk 2, what is holding it back from leveraging all that knowledge for coming up modern design for Tank EX ? Yes, its focussing its energy in trying to thrust the Arjun down the armed forces throat.

    4. The most basic ingredient of all successful arms companies is the integration of the soldiers experience with the Engineers capability. Design is a user driven process where as manufacture is at the other end of the spectrum. With prototype as 50 50. Why DRDO and military departments dont interact and familiarize themselves with each other is what is startling. Can DRDO guys not attend armor courses and cant ex military officers with Mtechs not be recruited in DRDO ?

    5. DRDO as Military supplier is a woefully understaffed organization. compare it with the number of employees in Military companies abroad and one will be shocked at the disparity.

    Either keep the same number of employees and make DRDO a strictly IP generating cutting edge R and D org or Increase the number of employees or start outsourcing such non R and D tasks to Pvt Sector.

    6. Hope design committee will be an empowered organization and not some young overburdened mid rank staff officers who get to spend time on actual work work rather than generating elaborate reports to their superiors who dont involve themselves but demand lengthy reports which they will forward up the chain and grab promotions with.

  23. We need a serious evaluation on what role tanks are to play in our future conflict scenarios.
    Who exactly are we countering with our future tank fleet? Does anyone really entertain the notion that a future conflict with Pakistan will look anything like the battles seen in '71 and '65?
    Do we really see the prospect of conventional tanks playing any role in conflicts with China?
    With the Pakistani's threatening the use of nuclear weapons at even the lowest thresholds, an invasion of Pakistan might not be on the cards. As far as defending against enemy tanks go. Anti tank weapons mounted on helicopters might suffice. A smaller tank fleet than one we have maintained over the years might be what works best.

  24. @anonymous 23 June 11.04

    Are you in the DRDO??? Sounds like it! ��

    1. Are you a foreign arms lobbyist...sounds like it...

  25. Jean Luc Pickard, DRDO's Tank-EX (tentatively named Karna, as opposed to Arjun) was NOT a requirement by the Army, but was an independent project by the DRDO. DRDO should be lauded for this. The Army as usual never evinced any interest in Tank-EX, despite knowing about it and seen it around. This, is near-criminal negligence by the Army.

    The Army's modus operandi to sabotage indigenous efforts is clear: if DRDO comes up with a tank, or a missile system, radar, etc. it compares it with comparable foreign products and comes with a list of "improvements". So, Arjun Mk.2 got a laundry list of 153(?) improvements demanded by the Army. As DRDO frantically goes about making those improvements, some time inevitably passes -- this is not a motorcycle, after all.

    This elapsed time is seized by the Army to declare a "change in doctrine". It then releases a concept of "next generation" tank/ACV/radar/SAM etc. But what about the still-to-be-improved DRDO product? The Army declares it as dated and caps its induction by a token number.

    This new FRCV charade is precisely because the Army wants to avoid the Arjun Mk.2, which is fast incorporating the "improvements" demanded by the DGMF.

  26. So Mr Ghorcharrah Gabbar

    What is wrong if the Army has specified that it needs a medium tank and left the designing cues broad based. This allows the designers to not be traditionally bound by any one design philosophy which in turn should give us the latest in contemporary tank tech. The operating word is Medium. That means any tank - from Armata to Leclerc can figure. And with the advances in technology today, the tank we may get will only benefit from keeping the parameters broad based. Keeping in view the large sum for R&D, I'm sure the industry will partner with the best design bureau. Isn't this the way the western armies get their eqpt (And even Soviet Russia in some cases - I remember their sniper rifle , the legendary AK-47 and Dragunov were both chosen through a design competition. DRDO / HVF Avadi is free to participate in the open design challenge and present a design that is superior than the others (and they should, they already have decades of expertise - first from the Arjun Project and now from the FMBT) - may the best design win. This works out best for both the designer / manufacturer as well as the army, who gets a clearly superior tank.

    FFood for thought, eh?

  27. @Anon 17:11

    What should a country of 1.3 billion where almost 700 million have no access to toilets, 200 millions are facing starvation, 4 out of every 10 stunted children in the world happen to be Indians and more than 500 million are living below poverty line, really be concerned about? Medium weight tanks or poverty alleviation? Money does not grows in trees. For the price of 1 bullet you can provide one meal to a hungry mouth. Forget howitzers, tanks and jets. If you factor in the number of bullets each year we use to train 1.3 million troops that itself will run into several million $s. Whatever we spend in defense we do that by denying basic facilities to 100s of millions of people of this country.
    Bt the way, ArjunMK1 and MK2 were developed as per specs specified by the army. Were they asleep while giving the specs for a tank for which the nation has spent billions? None of the best tanks in the world including Leclerc fall in the medium category. The top five are all heavy. All the best armies in the world have adopted the Leopard 2A4 to their needs, which is also the case with Arjun.
    DRDO and HVF have been created to make India self reliant with regard to design and manufacture of arms both in terms of technology and costs. Defense cannot be a means to enrich foreign arms merchants, shady Pvt Cos and corrupt polticians in a nation where more than 500 million do not get two square meals a day.

  28. @ Anonymous at 25 Jun 2015 at 17:11

    Has anyone analysed what went wrong with the Arjun design and development ?
    Nopes... the Mud Corps lacks the ability to even analyse project and system engineering practices. The Arjun suffered the fate it did (and continues to do so) due to incompetence as well as mutually exclusive ignorances of the Army and the developers. The tank's current fate and misfortunes are a result of poor manufacturing processes and not merely design flaws.

    My objections were not against the design and development consortium competition. It was the sheer stupidity of staying ignorant and dumb even about the most basic design parameters - dimensions or all-up combat weight or specifying protection levels.

    Have you noticed the problems in the manufacture or assembly of the T-72 or T-90 in India? I don't mean the QC and QA problems; I refer to the problems of IPR and indigenisation of crucial components. God bless the FRCV, and you.

    Don't want any further ado with dumb asses. Here's the one-finger salute to you.

  29. There are so many corrupt lackeys of arms dealers here . I am rather enjoying their heart burn as Modi government will never buy the shitty Russian tank called Armata.:)

  30. Most acquisitions of the Army go awry because in most cases, mission engineering which is a central element of systems engineering is overlooked. More often than not, the desire to possess a system stems from the inputs obtained after a visit of senior officers abroad or from the power points given by the representatives of firms stationed in the country.Without intrinsic abilities for capability analysis of existing weapon systems and that required to execute future missions, RFIs/RFPs are issued, only to get withdrawn later.A new system should ideally be developed if future missions intended cannot be executed by present system even after comprehensive upgrades.Since Arjun is a decently engineered tank,it makes sense to engineer future systems around this platform; reducing its weight, bulk,adding capabilities is a matter of systems architecting and optimisation.It is time mission anlysis techniques are used to confirm if there is a real need for a new system.

  31. I was predicting this last year itself! I have written to CVRDE & DMRL Heads -scientists, regarding weight of Arjun-MBT2 being the main culprit and issue [at 68 tons] for Army not accepting this MBT. But, these guys just went ahead and started designing a 1800BHP Indian diesel engine for MBT2; which would have added even more weight and required even more fuel! Army desperately needs a modern MBT weighing-in at LESS THAN 50 Tons! Their logistics CANNOT handle MBT's which will weigh-in at almost 70tons. Had advised CVRDE & DMRL to IMMEDIATELY start a Brand New version of Kanchan3 armor- Based on esoteric suitable-Titanium Alloys to replace RHA Steel plates; and "Shape Memory Polymer Composite Alloys" as developed by HAL for the FGFA, in order to replace the heavier ceramics layer in the old Kanchan2 armor. Aim is to have a NEW armor plate that weighs 50% less than Kanchan2 plate, and is also much tougher-resilient to anti-armor rounds and missiles! Guess, they can now start working on this angle to develop a NEW FMBT by 2030??


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