Amid standoff, Army looks to upgrade fleet of infantry vehicles

NEW DELHI: The Indian Army has sought to upgrade its infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) with night-fighting capability to fill a critical operational void in its mechanised infantry fleet at a time of heightened military tensions between Indian and China in the Ladakh sector, officials familiar with the development said on Monday.

The army on September 4 invited expression of interest (EoI) from Indian vendors for developing prototype and subsequent procurement of upgraded armament for its BMP-2/2K ICVs inducted almost 35 years ago.

“The terrain along our borders lends itself to conduct large-scale mechanised operations and the belligerence of our adversaries on the borders, necessitate that our capabilities are adequately built up to match the threat,” the EOI said. The army has deployed its ICVs along with tanks and artillery pieces in the Ladakh sector, where the two nuclear powers have been locked in a border row for more than four months.

The army said the armament system on BMP-2/2K — the mainstay of the mechanised infantry — is “night blind as on date” and needs to be upgraded with modern sights to fill capability gaps.

Former army vice chief Lieutenant General AS Lamba (retd) said, “The BMP-2/2k is an excellent combat platform armed with advanced weapons. But it’s critical to equip the fleet with night-fighting capability to optimize its impact in the battlefield.”

According to the army, the current armament sighting system on the ICVs is based on image intensifier technology which is not fit for modern day warfare due to its vast limitations. “The present system is also deficient of modernised fire control system and automatic target tracker which adversely affects the capability of BMP-2/2K to fight both during day and night. All these aspects are critical requirements for mechanised infantry to operate in armour intensive battlefield,” the EOI said.

The army is planning to upgrade 811 ICVs with third-generation thermal imager-based gunner sight, modern thermal imager-based commander sight, modernised fire control system and automatic target tracker. Vendors have been asked to submit their responses to the EOI in six weeks. If the multi-stage process progresses smoothly, user trials could take place in two years.

In June, the defence ministry placed an order with the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) for 156 BMP 2/2k ICVs for the army’s mechanised forces. The ICVs will be manufactured by Ordnance Factory Medak in Telangana at an estimated cost of Rs 1,094 crore.

The induction of the ICVs will be completed by 2023 and “the existing deficiency in the mechanised infantry battalions will be mitigated,” the ministry had then said.

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