While the country’s major players have been heralding a truck war, a marketing blitz by big names like Nissan, Isuzu, Mitsubishi and now again Toyota to dethrone the Ford Ranger as the country’s top-selling pick-up, Tata has been working to get more of their rugged all-terrain trucks drafted into actual military service … and they’ve just bagged a landmark order from the Indian army.
The order isn’t for the Tata Xenon that we’ve already driven and reviewed (see our story, Bring a Tata to a Truck Fight) and which is already on India’s military inventory as a light personnel carrier. This one is for its big, very big brother, and the volume of the order all but declares Tata as the new dominant truck builder for India’s armed forces.
India’s new top truck contractor
This month, Tata received the single biggest order ever awarded a private and indigenous OEM with the Indian army calling up 1,239 units of their LPTA 1623 6×6 multi-axle high mobility vehicles (HMV). The 6×6 HMVs are to be configured for materials handling in extreme conditions, equipped with heavy-lift cranes and all-terrain milspec drivetrains.
This is the largest order since India’s government put these on hold back in 2010 when they investigated allegations of graft in procurements from Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML), supplier of Tatra trucks produced in joint venture with the Vectra Group of the UK. By then, over 7,000 Tatra-Vectra vehicles were already on military inventories and there has been mounting concern about their continued maintenance and/or replacement.
Now, a half decade later and with new, stricter defence procurement procedures (DPPs) in place, India’s armed forces seems to have finally made its choice, naming Tata’s locally developed all-terrain truck as their preferred transport platform.
The Tata 6×6 HMV had undergone two years of trials with the Indian military, proving its all-terrain heavy-cargo capabilities on cross-country runs, water-fording tests, and on the controlled conditions torture track of India’s Vehicle Research & Development Establishment (VRDE). Military trucks need to be able to keep pace with frontline tracked vehicles, the tanks and armoured carriers of a modern land force, forming its supply train and security contingent, and configurable as personnel, cargo, fuel, or weapons carriers.
The 6×6 HMV has six wheels on three drive axles, all with independent suspension to conform to rugged ground and with tires that can be inflated or deflated centrally to vary their traction properties for either hard-packed earth or powdery desert sand. The cabin and carrier structures are modular for straightforward configuration of the platform into the multiple roles such as the following, in the nomenclature of the Indian military:
Common gun tower (CGT) for mounting artillery pieces.
- Multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) for launching braces of unguided rockets.
- Missile firing unit (MFU) for launching active or inertial guided missiles.
- Missile service vehicle (MSV), the tenders and ammunition carriers of missile launchers.
- Field service vehicle (FSV) and medium recovery vehicle (MRV) for repair and towing.
- Quick reaction surface to air missile (QRSAM) and low level quick reaction missile (LLQRM) vehicles for air defence.
Tata has a dedicated division for defence contracts (see http://www.defencesolutions-tatamotors.com), the unit tasked with developing military versions of civilian vehicles like that the Xenon light personnel carrier, and fully mission-oriented transports and carriers, like the military-only HMV.
Tata Philippines distributes both their passenger cars and commercial vehicles, the latter including their big Prima tractor trucks, but have not signalled any intentions of bringing in their military service models—at least not yet. With the marque having been launched here only in 2013, it will still be several years before Tata can qualify for national bids like the one for the recent, and controversial, DILG trucks requirement which specified at least six years of in-country operations.
Now that India’s largest automotive manufacturer is also one of it’s major defence contractors, essentially replacing Tatra Vectra after allegations of graft had ended the India-UK joint-venture’s dominance, Tata’s eventually becoming a qualified bidder for Philippine military and civil-service requirements should be an event to watch out for.