By Harsh Kumar
An 11-year-old plan to acquire more than 2,500 future infantry combat vehicles (FICV) for the Indian Army at a cost of around Rs 60,000 crore is staring at an uncertain future as it is stuck due “divergent views” among the stakeholders on its implementation. Understanding the situation the Indian Ministry of Defense has placed an order for 156 BMP 2/2k Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICV) with Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) for an estimated INR 1,094 crore ($145.7 million).
The obvious question is when Indian army is planning to replace these ICV then why force is ordering more units ? Since the FICV program is in cross hairs thus to meet the operational requirement, an upgraded BMP 2 isn’t a bad idea. The Upgrades included integration of latest generation fire control system, Improved missiles launchers, commander’s thermal imaging panoramic sights, Next Generation anti- tank guided missiles, as well as automatic grenade launchers.
The Indian version of BMP-II known as “Sarath” is a Russian infantry combat vehicle (ICV). Some people get confused between ICV and APC (armoured personal carrier). Both are armoured vehicles used for transportation of troops in hostile environment but an ICV has enough firepower to takes part in combat whereas an APC’s primary role is transportation of troops, it can be unarmed as well. BMP-II has been in service since 1980 and Indian army operates more than 2500 of these in different roles. On June 2, 2020, India’s Ministry of Defence announced placement of an order of 156 BMP-2 Sarath for the Indian Army‘s infantry units. In today’s date around 90% of the components of BMP-II are made in India by the OFB. It is tracked and amphibious which means it runs on track similar to a tank and can float on water as well.
Sarath has a steel armour of 33mm. It has a weight of 14.3 tonnes and an UTD 20/3 diesel engine of 300 hp which gives it a power to weight ratio of 21 hp/tonne. It can move at a speed of 65km/h on road, 45km/h off road and 7km/h on water. The armament includes a turret with 30mm autocannon with a maximum range of 4 km, 7.62 mm PKT coaxial machine gun, smoke grenade launcher and anti-tank guided missile. It has a range of 600 km and capacity of 10 (3 crew + 7 personnel).
As mentioned earlier there are many versions of Sarath in operation. Now we will at look them in detail, the performance of all these versions are more or less similar to Sarath.
NAMICA – Around the year 2000 a NAG missile (anti-tank guided missile) carrier version of BMP-II was proposed, and it went into trial in 2008. It was designed by DRDO for supporting mechanised infantry and reconnaissance role. Initially it carried eight missiles but later some design change were made which resulted in introduction of new electro-optical targeting system for locking target at longer ranges and the number of missiles were reduced to six due to lack of space, a 7.62mm PKT gun is also present. This new version is also referred as NAMICA –II. It can hit a target at a minimum distance of 500m and at a maximum distance of 4km. NAMICA can turn off its engine and use APU as a power source to reduce its thermal signature. Safety features include fire protection and suppression system, protection from nuclear and biological attack.
Light Tank – The story of DRDO making light tank is full of ups and downs, GSQR changed many times. First they started with BMP-1 chassis but never reached completion, in 1985 army decided that a light tank on BMP was not needed but the work continued. In May 1993, a year after the project left the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment, to come under the governance of Vehicle Research and Development Establishment, Ahmednagar, the Army again announced that the light tank was unnecessary. Nevertheless, firing trials continued until August 1996. Finally, the light tank is based on the chassis of Sarath, the turret has a 105mm semi-automatic gun with muzzle brake, has a COTAC semi-automatic fire control system, laser range finder, low level TV for commander an gunner, etc.
ARMOURED AMBULANCE – Armoured Ambulance was developed on a modified BMP-II chassis for evacuation of battle field casualties with built-in medical care. It has been designed with provisions to carry four stretcher patients or two stretcher and four sitting patients or eight sitting patients with two medical attendants. It is equipped with defibrillator for continuous ECG monitoring, automatic external defibrillation and pacing, NIBP and pulse oximeter, ventilator for artificial ventilations, suction unit for removal of abdominal fluids, refrigerator and conventional medical equipments. This version retains the turret but without the gun or smoke grenade launchers.
MUNTRA – MUNTRA (mission unmanned tracked) is an all-weather, day and night deployable unmanned variant of BMP-II. Mainly there are four versions –
MUNTRA B – It is the base vehicle for tele-operation with 2 men crew. It is capable of transmitting encrypted, digital command/data and video through wireless mode with anti-jamming capabilities. Mentioned below are three other versions which are tele-operated from MUNTRA B.
MUNTRA S – It is equipped with BFSR-SR radar, Integrated Multi-Function Sight (CCD/TI/LRF), Thermal Imager and Laser Range Finder. It is able to detect targets ranging from crawling men to group of vehicles, small boats to large ships which can classify the target automatically. It has special feature like slaving of sight to Radar for visual confirmation of radar targets.
MUNTRA N – It is capable of detecting nuclear radiations like Gamma/X-rays, chemical warfare agents like H & G agents, biological agents like virus, bacteria, spores and biological toxins, industrial chemicals with weather measurements, remotely fired steel pickets. It is also capable of collecting solid, semi-solid and air samples.
MUNTRA M – It is developed for mine detection & marking missions. It has Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and Vapour Detection System (VDS) which can detect AT & AP mines at a standoff distance. It is capable of real time detection of buried mines and automatic braking of UGV on detection of buried mines with mine marking. Field trails were completed during 2015-16.
Armoured Engineer Reconnaissance Vehicle – This version has no gun and is fitted with specialised equipment, including an echo-sounder, a water current metre, a laser range finder and GPS. On the left rear of the hull, a marking system with 40 rods is fitted. It is designed to meet the tactical and combat requirements of military engineers for carrying out terrestrial and under-water surveys in hostile terrains. It provides Combat Engineering Support for offensive & defensive operations in plains, desert and riverine terrains.
Armoured Amphibious Dozer – It is used to provides integral engineering support to battle groups in offensive operations by reducing banks of water obstacles to facilitate construction of wet / dry assault bridges and improves mobility of mechanized formations by construction and improvement of existing tracks. The turret has been removed and it is fitted with a folding dozer blade at the rear, mine ploughs, a main 90m long winch with a capacity of 8,000 kg and a rocket-propelled earth anchor for self-recovery.
Carrier Mortar Tracked – This turret-less version has an 81 mm mortar mounted in the modified troop compartment. The mortar is fired through an opening in the hull roof that has two hinged doors. It has a normal rate of fire of 6–8 rounds/min with maximum range of 5000m. The vehicle carries 108 mortar rounds and is also fitted with a 7.62 mm machine gun with 2,350 rounds and rocket launcher for engaging aerial targets. It needs a crew of six personnel.
Armoured Akash Carrier – The DRDO has taken years to develop the cross-country mobile, BMP-II mounted version of Akash missile defence system that the Army is interested in. One Sarath carries three missiles on top, similarly a version of Sarath mounted with Rajendra radar is also there. The capabilities of Rajendra radar and Akash missile is identical to the regular version of the air defence system.
The platform has become old but the utility is enormous. Like Sarath, the new steel chariot for Indian Army which will come with FICV program will be used for the multi utilities. Though this system will be upgraded and will remain in service for atleast a decade more.