BMP modernization and fire control system
To be able to foreclose a war in quick time as it did against Pakistan in 1971, India is preparing to refurbish one means of achieving “combat mobility”-the essence of swift decimation of the enemy and an implacable momentum-on the battlefield.
Its 2,000 infantry combat vehicles are set to be upgraded through a combination of battlefield experience and competence-building in technological skills over the years since the Defence Research and Development Organisation was created.
The BMP-2 and 2K versions known as Sarath locally are in the process of being modernized to ensure that the mechanized infantry is able to keep pace with the armored corps to allow capture-and-hold-territory operations even as the armor is expanding its field of operations.
Much of this ability depends on the firepower on board the ICV and its capability to traverse hurdles and water obstacles and not get bogged down. Acquired in the 80s, this ex-Soviet equipment has seen action in the Sinai war between Israel and Egypt, in Afghanistan and on the Indian subcontinent. Modern war requires more potent precision-guided weaponry and agile cross-country runs, fordability of water bodies and survivability in a nuclear, biological and chemical weapon scenario. A more powerful engine and new-age sensors more particularly that of thermal imaging gadgetry for operations after nightfall, have become essential for the battlefield.
The current lots of BMP-2s are powered by an engine that produces 285 horsepower. It is intended to upgrade this to 350 to 380 hp and indigenous automobile manufacturers like Mahindra and Mahindra, Tata Motors, Force Motors, Ashok Leyland, Maruti Udyog and Crompton Greaves and foreign suppliers MTU of Germany (whose engine powers the Arjun tank), Thales of France and Rosoboronexport of Russia the original equipment manufacturer of the BMP-2 have been asked to present their products for evaluation.
Much of the agility of the ICV depends on the thrust of the engine. The higher the power-to-weight ratio, the better the maneuverability of the platform. The current lot of BMP-2 and BMP-2K versions have an all-up weight of about 14.5 tonnes. With the current engine producing 285 hp the thrust-to-weight ratio appears to be satisfactory. However, with the improvement in armor with add-ons like the explosive reactive armor (ERA) and twin missile launchers carrying four missiles, takes a toll on the engine. More particularly where amphibious operations without preparations are involved.
The DRDO has been able to develop a water jet package that was intended to be installed on its next generation indigenous Future Infantry Combat Vehicle that was intended to be manufactured in collaboration with a consortium of Indian heavy engineering companies. If that can be incorporated in the upgradation program of the current BMPs it would mean a significant product improvement. The “without preparations” clause has a very specific connotation in maintaining combat mobility and momentum. Having to stop to fix snorkels militates against speed of operations.
Experience of the use of the BMP variants in warfare in other hotspots had shown it to be vulnerable to 50mm bullets and 106 mm recoilless guns. The placement of the fuel tanks in the centerline of the BMP too made the infantrymen inside vulnerable to blazes triggered by mines.
The DRDO’s creation of two prototypes of the next-generation FICV has given it some confidence in dealing with the upgradation program indigenously. However, hassles have emerged with former Chief of Army Staff General V KSingh raising doubts about the ability of private sector Indian companies being able to handle the job.
Nonetheless the fact that most of the Indian companies have already created a linkup with one foreign original equipment manufacturer should ensure that the requisite technological skills would be available. How much state-of-the-art technology will be transferred to India is still a moot point.
With an improvement of the weapons and decoys on board –the latest version of anti-tank guided missiles like the Konkur and the Milan, grenade launchers, smoke and flare dispensers, improved thermal imagers and the panoramic viewfinder for all-round vision have to be matched with an integrated fire control system that aligns gun and missiles with a swivel of the turret that is precise in both the horizontal as well as the vertical planes.
The Abhay FICV is a good learning experience in incremental growth in weapons technology and there is a very discernible trend of transplantation of technologies between fighting vehicles. The hydropneumatic suspension technology of the Arjun tank which makes for a comparatively comfortable high speed cross country ride can be downscaled and employed in the upgradation of the BMP-2. This feature, by itself, contributes to accurate ‘laying’ of the gun thereby making for swift surveillance, target acquisition and first round dispatch which could make all the difference in a mechanized infantry battle.
The product-improvement of the BMP-2 (Sarath) will have a salutary cascading effect on all the variants of this vehicle that had been created by the DRDO.
High on the list would be Akash surface-to-air missile battery which is built around the BMP chassis. The turret has been replaced with 360 degree swivel platform carrying three missiles. This vehicle, must, if it is to be able to keep up with the rest of the armor led mechanized infantry column, be able to swim across water bodies (without preparation).
Armored Vehicle Tracked Light Repair-Armored recovery vehicle, fitted with a light hydraulic crane. Armored Amphibious Dozer (AAD)- Turret-less combat engineer vehicle, fitted with a folding dozer blade at the rear, mine ploughs, a main winch with a capacity of 8,000 kg and a rocket-propelled earth anchor for self-recovery.
Armored Engineer Reconnaissance Vehicle (AERV) – This version has no gun and is fitted with specialized equipment, including an echo-sounder, a water current meter, a laser range finder and GPS. On the left rear of the hull, a marking system with 40 rods is fitted.
NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle (NBCRV) is used for detection of nuclear, biological and chemical contamination. The NBCRV was developed by DRDO and VRDE and has been ordered by the Indian army. An unmanned robotic version is also available to travel where no man would want to go.
Other high-value variants are: NAMICA (Nag Missile Carrier)–part of the Nag anti-tank missile system. from a retractable armored launcher that contains four launch tubes and the guidance package.
Nag is a fire-and-forget top-attack ATGM with a tandem-HEAT warhead and a range of at least 4 km. The Rajendra radar-a multifunctional 3-D phased radar (MUFAR), is associated with the “Akash” system. It is also based on the stretched chassis. Carrier Mortar Tracked Vehicle-this turret-less version has 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 maximum range of 5,000m and a normal rate of fire of 6-8 rounds per minute.
There is also a longer-range version of the mortar. The vehicle carries 108 mortar rounds and is also fitted with a 7.62 mm machine gun with 2,350 rounds. The first prototype was completed in 1997. To replace the venerable Abbott self-propelled 105 gun is the Ordnance Factories Board’s mechanized version of the Indian Light Field Gun with 42 rounds stowed. The gun is mounted in a lightly armored turret.
So versatile has been the BMP chassis that the DRDO has done itself proud by using it wherever a tracked platform is required for cross-country operations. Other, non-lethal variants include: Armored Ambulance which retains the turret but without the gun or smoke grenade launchers. The troop compartment has been modified to carry four stretchers.
Any upgradation of the BMP-2 cannot ignore the variants because they have become organic to the mechanized warfare phalanx of the Indian Army.
India has decided to undertake an ambitious program to upgrade its entire fleet of over 2,000 infantry combat vehicles with advanced weaponry and night-fighting capabilities, even as it inducts more T-90S main-battle tanks, upgrades its T-72 fleet and plans a futuristic smart tank for battles beyond 2020. The plan also includes to provide desired offensive capabilities to BMP-2 and BMP-2K infantry combat vehicles on three fronts- thermal imaging integration, armament upgrade and engine upgrade.