The Tata Kestrel- All You need To Know
The current India-China tensions have revealed a lot of — let’s call them gaps in India’s war fighting capability.
We need missiles for the LCH, more Tejas squadrons, more oversight in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, and generally more of everything
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India is a big country, and as a country, we have the will, the resources and the might to solve all problems. Everything will sort itself out, eventually.
But the need of the hour is light, fast, armored mobility on the India-China border. In the mountains of Ladakh, we need to be able to hit fast, hit hard and then move. Full frontal attacks will be useless. This is where the Tata-DRDO Wheeled Armoured Platform, or the WhAP comes into play. (WhAP = Kestrel + BMP-2 turret)
The WhAP would have to be like the de Havilland Mosquito light bomber, which played havoc in World War 2. The Mosquito was a twin-engine, all-wooden aircraft that flew as fast as the fastest aircraft the Germans could muster — the Me 262. Because of the light weight and the sheer speed, the Mosquito could penetrate enemy defenses at will, conduct recon or precision bombing missions and then speed away before Me-109s or FW-190s could get a bead on it.
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According to reports, a Mosquito once helped liberate a POW camp by dropping one bomb on the main officers’ quarters, killing all of them in one shot. A lot of it was down to fine flying, but the Mosquito was itself a versatile, light survivable aircraft, and over 7,700 were made.
The Tata Kestrel, which was first introduced in 2014, has yet to be adopted en-masse by the Indian Army. Yes, there’s the FICV program (Future Infantry Combat Vehicle), but the Tata Kestrel/WhAp is here. And it’s in the now.
Here are some reasons why it makes a lot of sense as the Army’s next big-ticket purchase —
- The presence of light tanks along the India-China border means the heavy Indian MBTs like the T-72 and the T-90 will win a slugging match, but will definitely lose in a fire-and-maneuver scenario
- A fire-and-maneuveur battle requires the deftness of a ninja versus the pure punching power of a heavy-weight boxer; in this case the main battle tanks.
- Our MBTs weigh up to 70 tons, making transportation of the actual weapon system a huge logistical burden every time they’re called up for action.
- The Tata Kestrel/WhAp, on the other hand, weigh less than half an MBT, and hence can move much faster
- Wheels are better than tracks on all scenarios — except on a wide, flat, sandy battlefield, like the Thar desert.
- Tata’s Kestrel is a versatile vehicle (I’ll show why in the specs section below) and can traverse a variety of terrains, be outfitted for multiple missions and also serve non-combat roles like that of an ambulance or VIP transport
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7. The Kestrel Wheeled Armoured Platform will be much, much cheaper than a main-battle tanks, and thanks to Tata’s mass-manufacturing expertise, can be built in the thousands.
8. With Tata, the Army won’t have to worry about spare parts and on-site support, because Tata has one of the largest automotive supply chains in the world.
9. The current Indian force of Soviet-era BMPs and BTRs is in desperate need of retirement
The Tata Kestrel is often compared to the Humvee and the Stryker IFV, which may prove to be good material for an academic debate. But deal-breaker is the price, and since the Kestrel/WhAP are made in India, costs will be much lower than competitors. A 2017 article pegged the price at INR 23 crore, while the Stryker costs INR 45 crore per unit.
- The Kestrel was jointly developed by Tata, DRDO and UK-based defense firm Supacat, and saw the light of day at the 2014 Defexpo.
- In the 2016 Defexpo, it was seen with a BMP-2 turret, and it was renamed to the WhAP (Wheeled Armored Platform)
- It has 8x8, meaning 8-wheel drive, which is two four-wheel-drives glued together, to provide maximum mobility in tight surfaces.
4. The two front wheels are steerable, and all eight wheels are of a run-flat type that can be centrally inflated or deflated, like in a modern luxury SUV. For rough terrains, the tires can be deflated, but for highway operation, they can be pumped up to normal levels of air pressure
5. The suspension is of a hydro pneumatic double-wishbone type — the compression-rebound is provided by the hydro pneumatic damper while the travel (up and down motion whenever it hits a bump) is by the double-wishbone arrangement, which is common in many large off-road vehicles
6. The body is made out of high-strength steel, composites and extra armour plating can be fitted whenever necessary. There’s no explosive reactive armour that we know of, for now.
7. The Kestrel weighs 25 tons, is 7.80 m(25.59 ft) long, 2.95 m (9.28 ft)wide, and 2.28 m (7.48 ft) high. These dimensions are huge by passenger car standards, but tanks are even larger. This makes them far more difficult to drive in urban environments. The Kestrel, on the other hand, won’t have a problem, because it’s more car than tank.
8. Propulsion is via a Cummins ISX 600 engine that can develop 600 hp and 1250 lb-ft of power and torque, and comes with a reliability rating of over 10 lakh kilometers, with Euro-III rating and a variable geometry turbocharger.
9. The use of a commercially available power plant means low smoke, higher fuel consumption and easy serviceability. Another added benefit is lower thermal emissions, which is great for night recon missions.
10. The power plant offers good performance, with a top speed of 100 kph and a range of 500 km and is undergoing tests in Eastern Ladakh for high-altitude operation.
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11. Internal combustion diesel engines generally perform better in the cold, and do not break down as often as turbine engines.
12 .Since it’s a wheeled vehicle, it won’t require an overhaul of the tires or wheels for at least 10,000 km on all-terrain operation. Tanks require regular servicing of the metal tracks every 400–500 km.
13. Another thing to note is that because of the durability of the wheeled system, the Army will no longer need tracked vehicle carriers — which incidentally also happen to be Tatra 8-wheeled trucks, saving a massive quantities of time, fuel and money.
14. The Tata Kestrel/WhAp also has an amphibious drive mode, and can ford streams at speeds of up to 10kph with the help of on-board water jets
15. The Kestrel/WhAp can seat 12 people, out of which two will be the crew and the rest — either support troops, engineers or observers.
16. The seats are supposedly more comfortable than what soldiers were used to in the BMP-2 and BTR series of armoured vehicles
17. The Kestrel/WhAP has fuel tanks placed outside the crew compartment for for higher levels of safety.
18. The seats are attached to the roof for blast protection, because most land mines will be encountered on the vehicle’s path — so the blast force will be maximum on the floor. If anchored from the roof, the seats also have a higher chance of retaining structural integrity in case of a collision by another vehicle or obstruction.
19. The seating is in a back-to-back fashion, with three gun ports and vision blocks on each side for firing, and two hatches for patrolling. The single rear- opening door is hydraulically operated.
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20. The Kestrel/WhAp features all the necessary life-support equipment required to operate in an NBC (nuclear, biological chemical warfare) environment — this primarily includes filtration systems, cabin pressurization and automatic climate control — features seen in the most modern armored platforms today.
21. The front end of the Kestrel features a sloped armoured plate, called a glacis plate, and is a modern design feature seen in most APCs around the world today. It is the strongest, most robust piece of armour in any armoured military vehicle.
22. Because it is sloped, it offers better protection against mines, by increasing the distance the shockwave has to travel to actually inflict any damage.
23. The main armament is a 30-mm cannon with a remote control system from Kongsberg, but could very soon be adapted to a home-made BHEL-DRDO system currently in use on other weapons systems
24. The gun fires a 30-mm round that can fire armor-piercing incendiary (API), high-explosive incendiary (HEI) and armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot tracer (APFSDS-T) rounds. It has an effective range of 3,000 m.
25. Secondary armament can include 40-mm grenade launchers. a 12.7mm machine gun or anti-tank missiles (probably the Nag ATGM in the case of the WhAP)
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26. Because of the use of a BMP-2 turret, the WhAP can be fitted with a 30 mm 2A42 main gun, a Kalashnikov PKT 7.62 mm co-axial machine gun, and a roof-mounted launcher for the AT-4 Spigot anti-tank missile system.
27. The BMP-2 turret means that older vehicles could be cannibalised for spares, especially armour plates and turrets, which will save a lot of money.
The Tata Kestrel is an effective fire-and-move platform, and should be high on the Indian Army’s shopping list. The defence modernisation plan has been a slow uphill fight, with government inefficiency, internal politics, and the MOD’s tendency to buy foreign over Indian. In case you didn’t know, Tata’s defence technology has proven itself in international markets. Other vehicles like the armoured Safari Storme are already being used by security forces worldwide.