A day after 'missile man' A P J Abdul Kalam took over as President and supreme commander of the armed forces, Indian defence establishments demonstrated their prowess by rolling out four special Tatra vehicles for transporting missiles and warheads.
Designed, developed and built indigenously by the Bangalore-based Bharat Earth Movers Limited in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the Centre for Air-Borne Systems, the vehicles are the Missile Transporter (Mist) and the Warhead Carrier for the PII missile launcher, the Sarvatra mobile bridge system, the Bheema-1000 aircraft weapon-loading carrier, and Mobile Mast.
The Indian Air Force has ordered 55 Bheema vehicles costing between Rs 1 million and Rs 5.5 million depending on the configuration, number of axles, and number of warheads they can carry. The army has booked 25 Sarvatra vehicles, costing in the same range, and 12 Mobile Masts.
The first to roll off the blocks, Bheema-1000 was handed over to Air Marshal V A Patkar, air officer in-charge at Air Headquarters, by the defence minister's scientific adviser, Dr V K Aatre, in Bangalore on Friday evening.
The four-wheeled self-propelled vehicle, with a hydraulically operated lifting and placing device, provides a safe and convenient system for positioning and handling missiles and bombs on to assorted combat aircraft like the MiGs, Jaguars, Mirages, and Sukhois.
According to BEML chairman K Aprameyan, the state-of-the-art vehicle is powered by an 800cc engine developed in collaboration with CABS and DRDO. "Its cabin is fitted with the latest electronic components and sub-systems and is built to protect its occupants from nuclear, chemical, or biological warfare," Aprameyan said.
The vehicle is mounted on a Tatra chassis produced at BEML's manufacturing facility in Bangalore in collaboration with its joint partner, Tatra Udyog Ltd, subsidiary of the Czech earthmoving equipment manufacturer.
The Missile Transporter and the Warhead Carrier are also mounted on Tatra 8x8 chassis and will be deployed by the IAF and the army for transporting missiles without propellant and warhead containers, respectively, from depots to missile preparation stations.
The Sarvatra is a multipurpose mobile military bridge system fitted on the Tatra
8x8 high-mobility truck and supported on self-erecting piers. Columns of the heaviest battle tanks can negotiate the bridge in a short time. With cabins on both sides, the vehicle can be driven from either side.
The Mobile Mast vehicle has an integrated 30m high mast fitted on to the Tatra all-terrain truck. The Mast assembly is designed to support long-range ground surveillance radar and is fixed on a platform by means of skids. The full system is suited for cross-country operations.
Aatre told rediff.com later that the vehicles were showcased at a few international defence expositions and the response was good. "They are not only an import substitution for our armed forces, but also have great potential for export as their cost of production is a third lower than in other countries," he said.
Aprameyan said BEML has an installed capacity of about 2,500 Tatra vehicles at its three production facilities in Kolar, Bangalore, and Mysore. Tatra Udyog has a production facility to manufacture the chassis at Hosur near Bangalore on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border.
"We are also exploring the export potential of these vehicles in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Even the armed forces of other countries can benefit by deploying these carriers as they are superior in technology and manoeuvrability," the BEML chief said.
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