In August 2020, several Indian media houses reported that the Indian Army is looking for procurement of wheeled armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and the main players in this race are DRDO WhAP, US Stryker, and Humvees. This news is part true and Team Guarding India brings you an exclusive story on India’s Wheeled APC procurement plans.
India’s wheeled APC contest is for replacing Russian BRDM-2 wheeled APCs used by reconnaissance troops of the Indian Army which have now reached the end of their service life. The reconnaissance troops are eyes and ears of the Indian Army as they are expected to spot intrusion by enemy tanks and alert the main force comprising of main battle tanks (MBTs) like T-90 Bhishma, T-72 Ajeya or Indian Arjun for the tank to a tank battle. This task requires high mobility and silent running capability where tracked APCs like Indian BMP-2 Sarath cannot be used as they make a lot of noise. In addition, these wheeled APCs are expected to cross rivers and streams far quickly than BMP-2s.
Indian Army’s last Request for Information (RFI) for acquisition of 198 wheeled APCs was issued in 2019 for and venders were expected to submit proposals by February 2020. However, same was delayed due to outbreak of Corona virus and now reports suggest that requirement may have been raised to 300 wheeled APCs as some may be required for Ladakh sector where Indian Army has already deployed T-90 Bhishma tanks and reconnaissance troops using wheeled APCs may be required.
The Indian Army RFI for 8X8 wheeled APC stated that it should carry a 2-ton payload, should be capable of crossing rivers and should be air-transportable by Indian Air Force IL-76 and C-17 Globemaster III planes. The wheeled APC is required to have ballistic protection of STANAG III on the front side and its turret armament should consist of 30mm cannon, 7.62mm machine gun, and two anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). Furthermore, it should be able to carry eight more ATGMs inside.
Coming on to contenders, the front runner is ‘Made in India’ TATA Kestrel wheeled APC which is an excellent design that ensures crew survivability, mobility, and protection. TATA Krestel has a composite armour with welded steel which offers adequate protection against IEDs, mines, and small arms fire. This APC also has the option of adding additional bolt-on armour kit in case heavy enemy attack is expected. Kestrel has seats attached to the roof which offer improved blast protection and comfortable ride to troops.
TATA Kestrel weighs 25 tons and has an engine of 600 hp turbocharged diesel engine while Indian BMP-2 Sarath APCs have a weight of 21 tons with a 300 hp engine. Thus, TATA Kestrel will be much more mobile than the Indian Army’s existing BMP-2 Sarath and can be deployed in mountains like the Ladakh sector. TATA Kestrel has an 8X8 wheel configuration with run-flat capability that allows it to move eve after suffering battle damage. It also has two inbuilt waterjets that allow it to swim and cross any river. TATA Kestrel can carry 12 fully armed troops in battle.
TATA Kestrel was designed to replace BMP-2s of the Indian Army and comes in two variants. The first variant is fitted with Kongsberg Protector MCT-30R Remote Weapon System (RWS) that can be fired from within the vehicle. The second and much-famed variant is DRDO WhAP that is essentially TATA Kestrel fitted with turret of BMP-2 Sarath. At present, both Kestrel variants are in the race and will be pitted against foreign wheeled APCs.
Another prominent contender for the Indian Army’s wheeled APC contest is US Stryker wheeled APC that weighs 19-26 tons depending upon the variant. Stryker APC has been extensively used in Iraq and Afghanistan. This APC is highly air transportable as it can also be transported by C-130J Super Hercules aircraft of the Indian Air Force. Presently, the US Army has around 4,000 Stryker wheeled APCs in service.
Russians are likely to join this race with BTR-82A variant which is the latest wheeled APC in service with the Russian Army and it has also been battle-tested in Syria. This APC is lightest amongst all contenders as it weighs only 15 tons which also points towards inadequate protection than Indian WhAP and US Stryker. However, BTR-82A uses its lesser weight for enhancing its mobility and it can carry a 30 mm gun and ATGMs.
The final contender of the Indian Army’s wheeled APC contest is European Boxer wheeled APC which has the best in class protection and mobility. Boxer has a unique removable mission module which can be changed as permission requirement. Boxer APCs can carry a 30 mm canon and can also be armed with Israeli Spike missiles.
Team Guarding India hopes that the contract for wheeled APCs will be an interesting one as presently only Boxer wheeled APC can meet all requirements of the Indian Army and TATA Kestrel along with US Stryker are also in the race. Indian Army may choose to give slight relaxation to TATA Kestrel but it can not compromise on critical requirements.