Army Is Buying American Stryker When It Has Made-In-India Alternatives

Ujjwal Shrotryia

Jun 24, 2024, 03:25 PM | Updated Jul 01, 2024, 09:13 PM IST

A Stryker armoured vehicle
A Stryker armoured vehicle

Indian Army’s fascination for imported equipment is once again coming to the fore.

United States National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan was in India for a two-day visit where he met various leaders of the newly-elected Narendra Modi government.

Sullivan also met NSA Ajit Doval, where according to reports several national and security topics were discussed, including the co-production of Stryker armoured personnel carriers (APCs) in India.

Wheeled APCs are armoured vehicles that are primarily used to transport troops, supplies or equipment in the battlefield.

They generally have protection against small arms fire of up to 14.5mm calibre weapons.

They cannot withstand fire from larger calibre weapons, and that is why APCs are not deployed at the frontlines, which is a task performed by tracked infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) which have thicker armour, making them capable of withstanding fire from larger calibre weapons.

Tracked IFVs are more mobile, owing to the usage of tracks instead of wheels.

On the other hand, unlike tracked IFVs, wheeled APCs are easier to maintain and are able to ford and swim across water bodies which the heavier IFVs cannot do.

The United States Army has been using Stryker since the early 2000s.

It has various variants which can be configured by changing its payload, such as a mobile hospital, a mounted gun system (with a 105mm main gun), a nuclear, biological, chemical, and reconnaissance variant, an anti-tank guided missile, and a command variant.

However, the ongoing discussions of manufacturing Stryker in India are perplexing if not a slap on the face of the government’s atmanirbharta in defence programme.

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in association with Tata has already developed a wheeled APC, WhAP, also known as Tata Kestrel.

Just like Stryker, it has eight wheels and can be configured into different variants.

It has a 600 horsepower engine which is more powerful than the Strykers’ 450 horsepower engine and has been successfully deployed in Ladakh with the Indian Army. They are, however, deployed in limited numbers. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), in contrast, uses a healthy number of Kestrels in counter-insurgency roles in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

Another version by Mahindra, again developed with DRDO, is also under trials.

Therefore, when India already has indigenous alternatives, what is the need for importing a new APC, and that too from the United States — a highly unreliable supplier.

Even if Kestrel or Mahindra APCs have any performance issues (none are in the public domain at the time of writing), they could be rectified with support from the manufacturers in the next batch.

This is called iterative development where the user shows confidence in the product, and whatever issues crop up in the initial batches are progressively rectified.

Even the Stryker went through this process.

It initially only had a 350 HP engine which was later upgraded to 450 HP. It was installed with additional bolt-on armour making it heavier, a modified V-shaped hull was added for increased improvised explosive device (IED) protection and a more powerful and robust electrical supply was added.

If upgrades can be done to Stryker, then they could be done with Kestrel too.

It is for this reason that the decision to go for Stryker is unexplainable. The move can only be explained by the army’s inclination of importing foreign equipment.

Army importing Russian T-90 tanks despite a Made-in-India option, namely, Arjun being availabile, is a case in point. Even after Arjun beat T-90 in all major criteria in trials held in 2010, the army went for further imports of T-90 tanks.

Now T-90 tank turrets are blowing up in Ukraine even if a relatively small warhead hit its most vulnerable part, ie, its roof.

DRDO developed advanced towed artillery gun system (ATAGS) 155mm calibre programme is another victim. Even after successful trials and demonstrating class-leading capabilities, the army is only interested in buying only 307 guns even when the requirement is north of 1,500.

Another one is the rejection of the indigenous Tapas medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone, in favour of Israeli Hermes 900 drones which are now made in India by Adani under a changed name of Dhristi-10.

It is only now that the air force and navy are giving a second lease of life to Tapas, as they are looking to buy 10 of these drones.

This will allow DRDO the time and funds to develop further upgrades which may allow it to meet armed forces' requirements.

The army, aside from its lip service to atmanirbharta, has rarely shown its confidence in Made-in-India products. The onus is on the government of India to not to give in for army's preference for imported products.

Staff Writer at Swarajya. Writes on Indian Military and Defence.

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