A last bid to save the Arjun main battle tank project

January 14th, 2009 - 3:29 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 14 (IANS) The Indian Army will conduct head-to-head “comparative trials” of the indigenous Arjun main battle tank (MBT), under development for over three decades, and the Russian-built T-90 tanks in June. This is seen as a last desperate bid to save the Arjun project that has already cost the exchequer Rs.3.5 billion ($71.7 million). The Indian Army had hitherto been ambiguous on the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) demand that the Arjun tank, which India has been trying to manufacture indigenously for nearly 36 years, be assessed head-to-head with the T-90 tanks that the army currently operates.

“Any comparison or comments on the performance or reliability (between Arjun and T-90 tanks) can be made only after the Arjun undergoes comparative trials, which we intend to conduct in June this summer,” a senior army official told IANS.

The army has made it clear that it will buy no more than the 124 Arjuns it has contracted for because it is unhappy with the tank on various counts. This apart, the army says the Arjun can at best remain in service for five to 10 years while it is looking 20 years ahead and needs a futuristic MBT.

The DRDO demand for the comparative trials of the two tanks is being seen as a desperate bid to save the Arjun as it would need to manufacture at least 500 tanks to make the project feasible.

Drawing a comparison between the two tanks, DRDO says Arjun has a greater power-to-weight ratio, a hydro-pneumatic suspension system for a more comfortable ride, a stable platform to fire on the move and a superior fire control system.

“The Arjun costs Rs.168 million while the T-90 costs around Rs.120 million. But, then, the Arjun compares favourably with contemporary western MBTs of its class that cost in the range of Rs.170 to 240 million,” a DRDO official said.

However, experts see the Arjun tank as complete disaster.

“The Arjun tank is cumbersome for strategic movement, i.e. to be taken from one sector to another. It is too wide and too heavy to be moved in the railway carriages that we have in India. The comparative trials are just an eyewash as Arjun is incomparable to T-90,” said strategic analyst, retired Lt. Col. Anil Bhat.

The army had last year told a key parliamentary panel that the Arjun failed to deliver at the winter trials conducted in the Rajasthan desert in 2007. The army said that many improvements would have to be carried out before it was satisfied with the tank.

It listed various defects, including a deficient engine and fire control system, inaccurate guns, low speeds in tactical areas - principally the desert - and the tank’s inability to operate in temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius.

The Indian Army laid down its qualitative requirement (QR) for the Arjun in 1972. In 1982, it was announced that the prototype was ready for field trials. However, the tank was publicly unveiled for the first time only in 1995.

Arjun was originally meant to be a 40-tonne tank with a 105 mm gun. It has now grown to a 50-tonne tank with a 120 mm gun. The tank was meant to supplement and eventually replace the Soviet-era T-72 MBT that was first inducted in the early 1980s.

However, delays in the Arjun project and Pakistan’s decision to purchase the T-80 from Ukraine, prompted India to order 310 T-90s, an upgraded version of the T-72, in 2001.

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