Let’s face it: we’re not exactly in the friendliest part of the world. Sure, it’s a good thing that unlike Africa or West Asia, we don’t have a stupid civil war every time someone as much as burps. But we aren’t exactly in lovey-dovey terms with two of our biggest neighbours. As a senior US government official said, Pakistan is an international headache – well, they are always up to something, aren’t they? And if our neighbour to the East doesn’t run us over with $10 iPads, Diwali fairy lights and fake Ray Bans, they have the potential to run us over with their overwhelming military might. Either ways, we need military power, lots of it. Imagine what will happen if one day a Chinese general misreads ‘Hello! Greetings from India!’ as ‘Bring it on, Manchurian 65!’ and decides to go all out on us? Mind you, they’re not great with their English (for the moment), so that is a distinct possibility.
In case you’re wondering what this multi-million wheel behemoth does, it’s a gigantic transporter that hauls missiles and rockets intended to obliterate a destination of your choice. Of course, you need to be within range for optimum performance; for example, if you’re carrying our home-grown ballistic nuclear-capable Prahaar missile, you’ll need to be within 150 km of the target but if you forego the nuclear bit – tough task, I know – you can plonk on our newest cruise missile, the BrahMos. This oddly-named projectile is no joke: it’s the fastest cruise missile in the world. On the other hand, the Prahaar can strike a target 150 km away in all of 250 seconds within 10 metres of error. In the bigger scheme of things, in the event of a subcontinental war, these tactical defence systems could take out targets even before airstrikes start. Used correctly, it’s a big tactical advantage and if this missile carrier isn’t up to scratch, the missiles will never be at the right place at the right time, our defence strategy would have a serious shortcoming and we’d all be forced to eat authentic (for a change) Sichuan cuisine for a long time to come. So, for the love of Indian-Chinese cuisine, this, the Tata 5252c 12x12 carrier should work flawlessly in the most testing of times.
Because it’s customary with ultra-large vehicles to begin by feeding raw, unbelievable numbers into your noggin, that’s exactly what I shall do. Firstly, the 5252c was developed right here at home in association with various defence research agencies like DRDO. And it’s a big deal. Quite literally so. With the trailer attached, it’s long enough to have different time zones for the front and aft. It’s got 12x12 all-wheel drive, a steering system that articulates both the front two and the last two rows of wheels and a 15-litre Cummins diesel that churns out 203 kgm of torque. Phew! And that’s just for starters. The main course is when you fire it up in a cloud of black smoke accompanied by a turbo whistle loud enough for a factory to think that their shift is over. But holy lord, once you get used to the fact that you have half of the Tata factory attached, it’s easier to drive than an Indica! Oh yes, you heard that right. But first, you have to climb to the first floor where your cabin is located. With interior bits that closely resemble those used on their Prima series, it’s a comfortable, if a bit large, place to be with terribly efficient air-conditioning, a 7-speed Allison auto tranny that’s a doddle to use and pneumatic seats that are better than a lot of luxury cars out there! Rest assured, when the world around them is being pulverised, the crew would hardly notice. In the midst of the hundred-odd buttons inside, they even have a button that seemingly summons a hare. ‘Dinner?’ I thought out loud, pointing at the button but the Tata chap wasn’t amused. It is in fact the electronic brain managing this complicated drivetrain with which you can customise how the vehicle responds to the terrain. Nifty, we must say, though the Dinner Summoner button isn’t a bad idea either.
As I tell the Allison gearbox to get us going, it’s frankly a bit baffling to discover just how easy it is to drive. Sure, on a test track, the size was more or less out of the equation and even then, it comes to me so naturally. Obviously, the 12x12 is in 12x10 mode on the road and it’s best for hauling massive loads through terrain where everything else would get stuck or sink entirely. Gradeability? Hah. 30 degree at full load. Fordability? Hah again. Up to 1400 mm. Ground clearance? 400 mm! Levels of respect demanded? Yoda league. The message put forth is simple: whatever it is, bring it on. The shifting is done seamlessly, so unlike regular trucks, you’re not stumped when you’re instructed to start off in 6th. I think to myself - ‘Hmm. This is sprightly. Probably because there’s nothing in the back there.’ but I was so completely wrong because there was a massive load in the back being used for the prototyping tests. Stunning, especially for a prototype.
As anyone in the BSM bay will tell you, I’m a sucker for these massive army haulers primarily because they’re gigantic and awesome, awesomely gigantic and every point in between. It’s the stuff of dreams, really. No wonder then, that as a tiny 6-year old Army kid, the only reason I used to run out of the house in the scorching 48-degree heat of the desert – in not much clothing, as my mother would point out – was to catch a sight of those giganormous Tatras that used to haul T-72s to the sands. With the ground underneath rumbling, my feet scorching and the unmistakable sound of that massive diesel echoing across the dunes, I was convinced that nothing in this world could possibly be more awesome. And only once in my life has that been proven wrong. How? Well, put simply: T-72 onboard, full-clip, miles of desert, tears of joy in my eyes.
Machines that make a Hummer H1 look like Barbie’s car. You’d be surprised how critical these massive(ly capable) trucks are to the battlefield
Every last strand on the back on my neck stands on end just looking at this. It’s an old monster from the good ol’ Commie days of the USSR and the Minsk Automobile Factory put this behemoth into production in 1963. It was so capable, it still is in active duty around the world.
Built to take on The Apocalypse as a secondary objective, the 537’s looks were brutal in their simplicity but what really mattered was underneath the sheet metal. It was powered by an oil-well draining 39.5-litre, 525 hp diesel, had permanent 8-wheel drive, four-wheel steering and it could carry 75 tonnes of armour or nuclear missiles across the world’s harshest landscape – Siberia. What a machine
For something branded the ‘Volat’ – giant in Russian – it’s got a designation and size to go with it. It’s huge...no, wait...it’s GIGANORMOUS with the Caps Lock held down. Its design brief was simple but turning it into reality wasn’t for the weak of heart. Before you read the specs, down a shot of Russia’s finest vodka because the figures really do demand it. It’s got 16 driven wheels, a carrying capacity of 81 tonnes, is five hatchbacks in length, nearly a hatchback in width and height and has an 800 horsepower, 38,000cc V12 diesel derived from the T-72’s engine. And if it doesn’t scare a country just by itself, it’s got a nuclear Intercontinental Ballistic Missile on its back. You know, better to be safe
The primary reason the M1 Abrams tanks got into action swiftly during Operation Desert Storm (Gulf war, Iraq, Kuwait ...remember?) was because of these Oshkosh Heavy Equipment Transporters (HETs). However, the newer series is much more reliable and it can haul up to 70 tonnes of load. In effect, a Main Battle Tank. The 18.1-litre, 700 horsepower Caterpillar diesel can haul a full load at 85 kph and it’s so big, it has a side-facing radar to monitor blind points. The tyres run even when they’re shot through – the central inflation system helping there – and there’s hydraulic suspension, front and rear-axle steering and it’s got a little diesel twin onboard to provide power for all those hydraulics.
SHE’S ALL MINE
Let’s assume for a moment that you don’t like this monstrosity shown here and you want to blow it up. Maybe your Indica’s fan belt has started squeaking again for the nth time or maybe your set-top box is constantly pestering you to buy extra large diapers; you’re angry and you want revenge, in any possible form and this is the only Tata thing in sight. But really, that’s not going to unsettle it one bit. Bring it on, says this ungainly camouflaged truck, let’s see what you’ve got. That revolver you sourced from your friend? Pah, that’ll barely scratch the paint. That AK 47 you paid a good sum for? Hmm, nice but really, grow a pair, will ya? So, you man up, sneak into the mines late at night, ‘borrow’ 21 kg of TNT and place it under there. That ought to do it. But you find out you’re wrong the moment you press the plunger. Sure, the driveshafts might be knackered post the blast but it still won’t die. I know your Zig Ziglar books don’t suggest this but this is a suitable time to give up. Welcome to the Tata Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) and don’t let anyone tell you anything else, this is way safer than a Volvo and it seats way more people too.
There is no denying that this is the manliest of the lot to drive. Mariah Carey would eventually turn into Jean Claude Van Damme with regular stints inside, replete with a mullet and a bursting-at-the-seams vest. Courtesy a turbocharged, water-cooled 6.7-litre Cummins diesel that produces a modest 94.3 kgm of torque and a proper six-speed gearbox lifted from a Tatra, you can feel each one of the 14 tonnes as you go along. Everything requires a good effort to make it work but then, I guess the Army likes that sort of a thing. You also feel cocooned inside, safe in the knowledge that whatever goes down outside, you can still relax inside and play Angry Birds. That is unless of course, someone finds more than 21 kg of TNT in their backyard.
Mind you, all those 14 tonnes are not excess flab – let’s not forget that this is basically a bullet-proof bunker-on-wheels that seats 14 and it’s kind enough to give each one of the passengers a firing port for their guns, pneumatic seats for the driver’s cabin, four-point harnesses at back and doors that double up as exercise machines. The talking point here is the V-shaped hull that can act as the chassis and the armour for the vehicle at the same time, and it gains its strength primarily because it’s cold-rolled into form. If the MPV takes a direct blast underneath it, the driveshaft will be blown to smithereens but those pricey run-flat Pirelli Pista (heh) tyres could get you home. Since the engine is mounted on rails, you can slide it out for repairs or replacement much quicker as well.
Hate to break it to you but I just cannot tell you how good it is or isn’t. It seems capable but the only real way of finding out whether it lives up to its name involves driving over a not-so-well-hidden landmine with me inside. And I’d rather not.
Let’s get rid of the Hummer resemblance before we start, shall we? Yes, it does look like a Hummer – big, boxy and camouflaged – and it aims to serve a similar purpose for the Indian Armed Forces. Basically, the LSV (Light Specialist Vehicle) requirement from the Indian Army demands an all-terrain vehicle that’s under 3.5 tonnes unladen and that can take on the various, difficult terrains that the Indian Army operates in. Versatility is the key and this Tata LSV can be adapted to various roles like reconnaissance, mobile communications, medivac or as a light armoured car. Powered by a 3.0-litre, 123 bhp diesel, the LSV can haul 1.2 tonnes over difficult terrain. It goes head-to-head with Mahindra’s Axe, the capable Vectra LSV amongst others. Now, we would’ve loved to tell you how it is to drive but the tranny gave up the moment we got in, so no luck there.
CAT AND MAO'S
Sumo Grande MKIII? Not quite. Tata’s Light Armoured Vehicle, based on the Sumo platform, is quite a capable tool for countering insurgency, troop deployment and armed escort duties. In areas where movement of vehicles is naturally restricted like urban areas or jungles, light armoured trucks like this LAV are deployed. Why? Because it can sustain close-range shots fired from most 7.62 mm combat rifles and even if you try your luck by lobbing two hand grenades underneath, it will still keep on going, courtesy the armour and the run-flat tyres. With 115 bhp powering a 3.6 tonne vehicle, driving it feels exactly like driving a weighted-down Sumo but that said, it will still max out at 85 kph and trundle up 36-degree inclines. So, the next time you’re going into a dangerous Naxalite area or if you live in an area that’s straight out of The Gangs of Wasseypur, you know what to buy.
UP IN ARMS
‘Oh yes, now we’re talking’ said Rohin and I simultaneously on seeing the Tata Xenon Recce. We’ve never paid so much attention to a Xenon before this, but the Recce Army version is right up our alley. Under the bonnet is the standard 140 bhp, 2.2-litre DiCOR diesel but because it’s so much peppier, we instantly took a liking to it. The fact that it had a 360-degree machine gun turret on top, jerry cans, BFGoodrich tyres and a smashing military green paint job made it bloody cool. Rohin went around corners like he was attacking Somali rebels attacking the capital city. At least it looked like that. How about a desert-camo civilian-version of this Army-only special, Tata? Oh and keep the gun turret on.