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By Bulbul Singh

03 Apr 13. India will acquire thermal Imaging (TI) systems for its Russian made T-72 tanks, T-90 tanks and BMP Infantry combat vehicles following clearance by the highest procurement body, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), April 2 to buy the systems at a cost of over $ 600 million. The DAC, which is the highest procurement organization, within the Indian Ministry of Defence headed by the Defence Minister gave clearance to an Indian Army proposal to buy 2000 thermal imaging systems for T-72 tanks, 1200 for T-90 tanks and 1800 for BMP infantry combat vehicles.

The acquisition will however be done only from the state owned Bharat Electronics Limited, (BEL) and the acquisition will be completed by 2017. The bulk of the Russian made T-72 tanks are night-blind and the demand for acquiring thermal imaging devices was pending for the last three to four years. Only 300 of the over 2400 T-72 tanks have been fitted with thermal imaging devices.

An earlier effort to provide night vision with French Catherine Thermal Imagers on the Russian-origin T-90 tanks had failed. India, then, decided to upgrade its existing fleet of 800 tanks to provide Thermal Imaging systems up to 200 meters to the Driver, up to 5,000 meters to the Gunner and about 400 meters to the Commander. The purchase of the Catherine Thermal Imagers was done in 2008 and supplied by Thales of France.


The Indian Army has been asked to procure the thermal imaging devices only from state owned BEL despite complaints of technical faults with the Night Vision Devices mounted on the light machine guns (LMGs) and INSAS 5.56 mm rifles used by the paramilitary forces.

In 2011 the Communist Party of India (CPI) had urged the Union Home Ministry to stop purchase of night vision devises (NVD) or TI systems produced by Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL) alleging that the life of each unit was supposed to be 10 years, around 400 units of the 1,000 supplied earlier developed defects within two-and-a-half years.

The Indian Night Vision Device market is estimated to be over $3 billion, including the Indian Army and the Homeland Security.

BEL started supplying the NVDs to the paramilitary forces in September 2010. Ten per cent of the tested pieces were found to be faulty; the promised life of a piece was 10 years. The remaining 3,000 pieces are stored at depots, as the ministry is wary about deploying them in the field, said sources.

The executive on BEL said they have the necessary transfer of technology for the thermal imaging systems including passive Night Vision Sight for 5.56mm INSAS Rifle and Light Machine gun, Passive Night Vision Rocket Launcher and Passive Night Vision Binoculars.

Indian defense forces are using mainly varieties of thermal imaging equipments – mainly night vision devises, hand-held land thermal imaging systems, reflex and hologram sights. These systems are also equipped on high mobility vehicles, infantry combat vehicles, tanks and armored personnel carriers. The helicopters operated by Army and the Air Force also lack the night fighting capability.

The need for thermal imaging equipments arise in India after Kargil battle in 1999 with Pakistan.

India’s Bharat Electronics Ltd (DEL) is now producing variety of thermal imaging systems through technology transfer from Defence Research and Development Organisation [DRDO] , Elop of Israel and Thales of France.

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