The Indian Army (IA) has put into the deep-freezer futuristic projects like the FRCV and FICV, and is now focussed entirely on upgrading its existing fleets of main battle tanks (MBT) and infantry combat vehicles (ICV), in addition to procuring new-build MBTs of existing designs—both imported and ‘desi’.
T-90S MBT Fleet
The total number of 46-tonne T-90S MBTs planned for procurement is 1,657—a figure that was firmed up way back in 2007. To date, 640 units have been procured from Russia (both as off-the-shelf units and those in semi-knocked-down condition, while only 125 have been built under licence (with dismal levels of indigenisation) by the state-owned, Avadi-based Heavy Vehicles Factory, with another 464 now awaiting to be built (for equipping 10 Armoured Regiments). This leaves another 428 of these MBTs to be ordered.
The IA now wants to upgrade its 640 T-90S (that came from Russia) through the installation of a new digital hunter-killer fire-control system developed by TATA Power SED, which will include an autotracker correction-input device and a related muzzle reference system. In addition, a locally-developed auxiliary power unit (APU) will be installed, as will laser warning receivers. But most importantly, the IA has decided not to opt for active protection systems and has instead mandated that 360-degree augmented situational awareness systems be procured.
Such systems are presently available from Israel’s ELBIT Systems, and Germany’s Hensoldt (known as the SETAS local situational awareness system (LSAS), and also from Rheinmetall Defence Electronics GmbH, whose solution is called eLSAS (extended Local Situational Awareness System). More data on such systems can be found here:
Elbit Systems' IronVision helmet-mounted augmented situational awareness system uses a number of externally mounted cameras to project the 360-degree view of an MBT’s surroundings onto the helmet-mounted displays (HMD) of its crew members. The IronVision transmits real-time, high-resolution color video to the commander and/or driver, providing them with a natural, bi-ocular, conformal view of the vehicle's surroundings, together with relevant symbology and data. Using the Iron Vision ‘See-Through’ HMD, a crew of two (commander and gunner) is capable of operating the MBT entirely under closed hatches. The system transmits real-time, high resolution video to the crews’ HMDs. In addition, Iron Vision enables the crew to acquire targets, conduct line-of-sight (LOS) driving and navigation and enslave the MBT’s weapons systems to their LOS.
For the 1,000 T-72Ms to be retrofitted with the ELBIT Systems/Alpha Technologies-supplied TIFCS fire-control systems, the earlier plan for powering them with an indigenously turbocharged V46-6 engine has gone horribly wrong since an uprated 1,000hp engine also requires a brand-new gearbox (which the Avadi-based Combat Vehicles R & D Establishment, or CVRDE has been unable to develop), since the existing gearbox of the T-72M is optimised for operating with only the 780hp variant of the V46-6 engine.
Consequently, the only option now is to import both the 1,000hp V92S2 engine (of the T-90S) and its associated gearbox as a complete powerpack from Russia’s Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant, with HVF undertaking the final installation on the T-72U hulls at Avadi. The T-72Us too will contain ‘desi’ APUs.
The IA has also tasked the DRDO to develop a 125mm-diameter variant of the 120mm cannon-launched guided-missile (CLGM), despite the DRDO’s inability so far to develop the 120mm CLGM.
Arjun Mk.1A Status
The IA is now fully satisfied with the enhancements carried out by CVRDE on the MBT’s powerpack. However, the installation of the RCWS mounting on the turret is offering very limited LOS to the MBT’s port-side. Consequently, the only remedy now being readied is a raised commander’s periscope—believe it or not! In addition, the IA has also specified a 360-degree situational awareness system for fitment on the turret. And as for the futuristic Arjun Mk.2, no one is even willing to utter a word about it as of now.
After subjecting this wheeled APC to mobility and firepower tests in the North-East, the IA had mandated several modifications, which are now in the process of being carried out. No firm contracts for this APC has been placed to date.
Since the previous decade itself, India-based ‘desi patrakaars’, through both print and electronic media outlets, have been churning out FAKE NEWS about the export potential of India-made military hardware like the BrahMos-1 supersonic multi-role cruise missile and the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA). For instance, no one from Vietnam has ever gone on-record to express any interest in importing BrahMos-1s from India. In reality, Hanoi back in 2008 had ordered an initial two Regiments of 3K55 Bastion-P coastal defence systems that use the P-800 Oniks/Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles developed and produced by the Russia-based NPOM (which also owns a 49% stake in the BrahMos Aerospace joint venture, with the Govt of India owning the remaining 51%).
The 3K55 Bastion-Ps started arriving in Vietnam back in 2011, with each Regiment including four motorised self-propelled launcher vehicles carrying K340P (two cannistered missiles on each launcher vehicle); vehicles carrying ammunition reserves; a Monolit-B fire-control radar; and a command vehicle. Since then, Vietnam has expressed interest in procuring another two Regiments of this very coastal defence system, as revealed here:
A more recent FAKE NEWS that has been circulating concerns speculation about exporting the Tejas LCA to Malaysia. This piece of disinformation originated early this year through such news publications:
The most recent example of such manufactured but ill-informed concoctions is this:
And here is the reality: Malaysia’s Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (TUDM) will in the first quarter of next year formally launch a procurement effort for up to 36 light combat aircraft/fighter lead-in trainer (LCA/FLIT), with an option for 26, to eventually replace a number of its current combat platforms like the 14 BAE Systems Hawk Mk.208s, 13 MiG-29Ns, and seven Aermacchi MB-339CMs. According to the TUDM HQ, eight candidate OEMs have so far made unsolicited offers, comprising the Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50 Fighting Eagle from South Korea; from India the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) Tejas Mk.1; Leonardo of Italy’s M-346FA; Czech Republic’s Aero Vodochody L-39NG; China’s Hongdu Aircraft Industry Group-developed L-15A/B; the JF-17 Thunder from the Sino-Pakistani Chengdu Aerospace Corp/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex industrial partnership; the Saab JAS-39 Gripen-C’s MS20 sub-variant from Sweden; and from Russia’s the ROSTEC-promoted Yakovlev Yak-130.
The TUDM has to date specified that the selected LCA/FLIT must be able to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, with a future maritime strike capability; that it must be able to conduct counter-insurgency operations; that it be economically viable; and that enough be bought to be able to conduct operations in two theatres simultaneously, and at very short notice. What this means is that the chosen LCA/FLIT’s fleet will comprise both single-seaters and tandem-seaters, and its primary roles will be air combat and all-weather precision-strike. Consequently, this will require to the LCA/FLIT to possess the kind of performance parameters that will easily disqualify platforms like the M-346FA, L-39NG, L-15A/B and the Yak-130. This then leaves behind the FA-50, Tejas Mk.1, JF-17 and the JAS-39 Gripen-C’s MS20 sub-variant.
Coming now to cost-effectiveness, the first one to be disqualified will likely be the JF-17, whose direct operating costs will be higher than its competitors on account of its 1980s-era Klimov RD-93 turbofan, which has a total technical service life of only 350 hours of operation. Also to be disqualified will be the Tejas Mk.1 LCA due to three primary deficiencies: 1) Its as-yet-undetermined direct operating costs. 2) Its usage of Israel-origin mission-critical avionics (like the Elbit Systems TARGO HMDS, RAFAEL’s Litening-2 LDP and the ELTA Systems-built EL/M-2032 multi-mode radar on the Tejas Mk.1). 3) The absence of mission-critical hardware on the Tejas Mk.1 like an internally-mounted cannon and a self-protection jammer.
During the Aero India 2019 expo last February in Bengaluru, the Tejas Mk.1s belonging to both the IAF and the Aeronautical development Agency (ADA) that were displayed in static form were shown without their GSH-23 cannon-mountings, as illustrated by the two slides below:
As for those expecting the Tejas’ Mk.1A variant to be offered to Malaysia, they need to bear in mind that the TUDM will not accept any solution that includes any Israel-origin avionics and armament. And since the Tejas Mk.1A will use the ELTA Systems-delivered EL/M-2052 AESA-MMR, TARGO HMDS. Litening-2 LDP and ELTA Systems’ EL/L-8222 airborne self-protection jamming pod, the Tejas Mk.1A too will be disqualified by the TUDM. And although the IAF has specified a pod-mounted cannon for both the Tejas Mk.1 and tejas Mk.1A variants, it is anybody’s guess as to when such a solution will be procured (either as a locally-developed product or an imported off-the-shelf product).
And yet, despite these shortcomings being flagged way ahead in advance, for entirely unknown reasons a large contingent of officials from India’s Ministry of Defence, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and HAL was authorised to participate in the Langkawi International Maritime Aero Expo (LIMA-2019) that was held in Langkawi, Malaysia, from March 26 to 30 earlier this year.
The Only Viable LCA/FLIT Contenders
As of now, therefore, the FA-50 is the leading contender for fulfilling the TUDM’s LCA/FLIT requirement. Powered by a single General Electric F404-GE-102 turbofan developing 17,700lbf of thrust with afterburner, this turbofan provides a maximum speed of 1,837.5kph (Mach 1.5). The ‘Golden Eagle’ family of LCA/FLIT platforms, jointly developed by KAI and US-based Lockheed Martin, has already bagged lucrative export contracts in both Southeast Asia and West Asia.
Indonesia’s Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Udara (TNI-AU) awarded a US$400 million contract to KAI in May 2011 for the supply of 16 FA-50s. Deliveries were completed by the end of 2013.
In December 2013 Iraq ordered 24 of the FA-50s worth $1.1 billion. On October 19, 2013, The Philippines and South Korea signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the former’s procurement of FA-50s. On February 13, 2014, Manila approved the payment scheme for purchasing 12 FA-50s at a cost of $415.7 million. On March 28, 2014, The Philippines’ Department of National Defense signed a contract for 12 FA-50s for $421.12 million. Deliveries began in November 2015 and were completed in May 2017. In September 2015, the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) chose the TA-50TH variant for the Hongdu L-15 to replace its L-39 Albatros advanced jet trainers. The four TA-50THs were delivered by March 2018.
Notably, while the TA-50/FA-50 aircraft of the ROKAF, Philippine Air Force and RTAF make use of the EL/M-2032 MMR, the FA-50s of Indonesia and Iraq have on-board the APG-67(V)4 multi-mode radar, supplied by Lockheed Martin, since both these countries, like Malaysia, have a declaratory policy of not procuring any Israel-origin military hardware.
Saab, on the other hand, is proposing a cheaper variant of its JAS-39, known as the JAS-39C MS20 sub-variant, that will use new-generation but cost-effective mission avionics like Leonardo of Italy’s Vixen 500E or Grifo-E AESA-MMR. In addition, Saab is also offering this MRCA with Kongsberg’s NSM anti-ship cruise missile, which has already been ordered by the Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM, or Royal Malaysian Navy). The Swedish National Export Credits Guarantee Board (EKN) is now gearing up to offer export credit support and be the possible solution for the budgetary scarcity issues faced by the TUDM.