Tuesday, January 25, 2022

After Rafales & Nuclear Subs, France Likely To Offer Its ‘Killer Machine’ — Leclerc Main Battle Tanks To Indian Army

As the Indian Army’s search for a next-gen main battle tank gathers pace, a French company may pitch its Leclerc Main Battle Tank to New Delhi. This comes days after Russia proposed a T-14 Armata-like advanced tank for the Indian military.  

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The French government announced last week that it would back Nexter’s industrial proposal for India, in the National Assembly, the country’s lower house of Parliament.

The FRCV project plans to manufacture the chosen tank in India with the help of a “strategic partner”, as reported by The Week. India’s move is in line with the Request for Information (RFI) issued last year.

The French government’s response was released on December 28 in response to a query from lawmaker Nicolas Dupont-Aignan.

In response to a question concerning India’s Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) project, Dupont-Aignan suggested that production of Nexter’s existing Leclerc tank be resumed. By the mid-2000s, the French Army had received 406 Leclerc tanks. The tank was also exported to the United Arab Emirates, which gave dozens of them to Jordan.

The FRCV program has been in development for almost a decade and is intended to replace the Indian Army’s fleet of Soviet-era T-72 tanks.

The first of the new tanks are likely to enter service by 2030, with sophisticated networking capabilities to connect with both ground and air troops. The FRCV contract is projected to be worth $5 billion.

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The Indian government had issued RFIs to 12 companies including Russia, Israel, Europe, Turkey, the United States, and France in June of last year. The RFIs were issued for the supply of about 1,770 new tanks to the Indian Army under the FRCV program.

T-14 Armata - Wikipedia
T-14 Armata Tank (via Wikipedia)

A few days ago, Russia had offered India to jointly develop a new battle tank based on its T-14 Armata platform which was unveiled for the first time in 2015 at the Moscow Victory Day Parade. It had been touted as a suitable option for India’s high altitude combat due to its capability to operate in low temperatures, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times.

France Eyes India’s FRCV Contract 

Dupont-Aignan pointed out in his question in the lower house that France was only modernizing about 200 Leclerc tanks for usage until 2040. “During the next 20 years, nothing is planned to properly augment the French Army’s heavy land combat means,” he stated.

He added that if Nexter won the FRCV contract, it would imply separate production lines for the Leclerc in both France and India, making the tank’s “buying price extremely competitive, both for the Indian and French forces as well as for export”.

France, he claimed, required at least 400 tanks while suggesting that the expense of constructing specialized variants of the Leclerc for tasks such as command vehicles, artillery platforms, and anti-aircraft defense could be shared with India.

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The French government responded to Dupont-Aignan by saying it will pay close attention to any synergies “that may exist between the needs of the Indian military and our national interests”.

This interaction in the French National Assembly points to its alacrity at supporting Nexter’s bid. However, the tank that it plans to pitch to the Indian Army remains unspecified. The French Army’s Leclerc tanks in use for more than a decade are now being upgraded to the Leclerc XLR model.

Rafale
File Image: Rafale Aircraft

Earlier, France had offered more Rafale fighter jets to India and even hinted at manufacturing them within India under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. It also remains in the process of bidding Rafale-Marine fighters to the Indian Navy, the trials for which are going to begin soon. Reports have also suggested that France could offer its nuclear Barracuda class submarines to India.

The French support to Nexter’s bid, coming as it is, in consonance with the overall French courting of India for fulfilling its military needs.

Leclerc Main Battle Tank

The Leclerc main battle tank (MBT) is a 55-tonne tracked machine produced by Nexter Systems, a French state-owned weapons firm (previously known as Giat Industries). In stationary or mobile modes, it can fire arrow, explosive, and canister ammunition, according to Army Technology.

File:Leclerc-IMG 1744.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
File Image: Leclerc MBT – Wikimedia Commons

A thermal sleeve and muzzle reference system are included with the 120mm 52-calibre smoothbore gun. A compressed air unit is used to discharge the fumes. The gun can fire 12 rounds per minute and uses APFSD (armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot) and HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank) ammunition. For faster acceleration, the aiming system is totally electrical.

The tank includes an automated loading system that allows it to fire cross-country against moving targets. There are 22 rounds of ready-to-fire ammo on board. The tank additionally has a roof-mounted 7.62mm anti-aircraft gun and a 12.7mm machine gun that is co-axial with the main armament.

The FINDERS (fast information, navigation, decision, and reporting system) battlefield management system, designed by Nexter Systems, is installed on the Leclerc. FINDERS contains a color map display that indicates the host tank’s position, as well as allied and opposing forces and designated targets, and can be used to plan routes and missions.

“The Leclerc tank with its mass of only 55 tons, its good mobility with its 1,500 hp engine and the excellence of its turret and firing system, is very well placed”, to bag the FRCV contract, Dupont-Aignan claimed, as reported by The Week.

Most prominent Western tanks, such as the US M1 Abrams, British Challenger, and German Leopard 2, all weigh more than 60 tons.

Unlike the other three Western designs, the Leclerc has a three-man crew, with no ‘loader.’ The Leclerc has an ‘autoloader’ system that replaces the loading, a soldier who manually loads ammunition into the gun. Russian tanks like the T-72 and T-90 also have autoloaders. The Leclerc also boasts a sophisticated communications system that allows it to communicate with both ground and air forces.

An Upgraded Leclerc For Indian Army?

The Leclerc XLR is a modified variant of the Leclerc Main Battle Tank (MBT). It has the same armament as the original Leclerc tank, which is a Giat 120 mm 52 caliber smoothbore cannon known as the CN 120-26.

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Chinese T-15 light tanks at a ceremony held by the Tibet Military Region. (via Twitter)

Even though neither the manufacturer nor the French government has specified which Leclerc would be pitched to the Indian Army, there might be a chance for this upgraded tank.

The Leclerc XLR also has an automatic loading system in the turret that holds 22 rounds of ready-to-fire ammunition that is loaded from the outside through a small hatch in the back of the turret bustle.

The new Leclerc can fire two different types of 120 mm ammunition: the APFSDS (Armour-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding-Sabot) with a muzzle velocity of 1,790 m/s and the HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) with a muzzle velocity of 1,100 m/s, both of which have a semi-combustible cartridge case containing a dual-base solid.

The tank selection notwithstanding, if the French bid goes through, it will significantly boost the defense relationship between France and India. It will also make France the country to become the supplier of a second crucial system to the Indian military after Rafales.

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