India has approved a plan to buy 30 billion rupees ($500 million) worth of night-vision equipment for its armed forces, a government official says.

At an April 2 meeting of the Defense Acquisition Council, the highest decision-making body in the country’s defense affairs, Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony approved the procurement of around 5,000 third-generation thermal-imaging and night-vision devices for the country’s Russian-origin T-72 and T-90 battle tanks and its BMP Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs), a defense official says.

Programs already are under way to equip T-72 tanks with 700 thermal imaging standalone systems (Tisas) and 418 thermal fire control systems at a cost of around $230 million. About 300 Israeli Tisas have been installed already as part of the T-72 upgrade program.

For the T-72 tanks, 2,000 more pieces of thermal imagers will be procured at a cost of about 10 billion rupees; 1,200 pieces will be bought for the T-90 battle tanks for nearly 9.6 billion rupees and 1,780 pieces for infantry combat vehicles costing 8.6 billion rupees, the official says.

The thermal imagers are currently being produced by state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited. In 2007 the company signed a memoranda of understanding with Elbit Systems Electro Optics Ltd. for the local production and support of thermal imaging systems.

Another company to benefit from the Indian demand is Star Defense Systems. The Israeli firm Star Night Technologies Limited’s subsidiary won a tender estimated at $30 million to supply night-vision equipment to the Indian army in 2007.

India’s army has been concerned about the night-fighting capabilities of its mechanized fleet that includes T-72 and T-90 tanks and ICVs. It is believed that only half of the armed forces’ tank fleet currently have this capability.

It “will enable tanks and ICVs to have the capability to fight in both day and night conditions,” the defense official says.

The defense ministry also cleared a proposal to upgrade the existing inventory of M-46 130mm artillery guns to 155mm guns through the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). The OFB is modernizing its facilities under a 150 billion rupee plan.

India plans to spend about $100 billion to modernize its aging military hardware over the next decade to compete with the defense potential of neighbors Pakistan and China. India continues to be the world’s leading arms importer.

Photo: T-72