Indian Army rejects joint assessment of indigenous main battle tank

July 20th, 2008 - 2:03 pm ICT by IANS  

By Ritu Sharma
New Delhi, July 20 (IANS) In a desperate bid to save the main battle tank (MBT) Arjun it has developed, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had suggested a joint assessment of the vehicle with the Indian Army to keep the project alive but this has been summarily rejected by the army. The army is also ambiguous on a suggestion by the DRDO that the tank be assessed head-to-head with the T-90 MBTs the army currently operates.

“Following the army’s adverse report on the tanks after winter trials last year, the DRDO had suggested a joint assessment be conducted but the army refused this outright,” a defence ministry official told IANS.

On its part, the Indian 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 5 to 10 years while it is looking 20 years ahead and needs a futuristic MBT.

The army had told a key parliamentary panel earlier this year that the Arjun, which has been in development for the last 36 years, failed to deliver at the winter trials conducted in the Rajasthan desert last year. The army said that many improvements would have to be carried out before it was satisfied with the tank.

Fourteen Arjun tanks were handed over to the Indian Army for user trials last year but were returned to the manufacturer - the Combat Vehicles Development Establishment - with a list of defects.

These included a deficient engine and fire control system, inaccuracy of its guns, low speeds in tactical areas - principally the desert - and the tank’s inability to operate in temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius.

Allegations of “sabotage” had surfaced after the winter trials.

“Following these reports, the DRDO sought a joint trial of Arjun and the T-90, but the army has not taken a clear stand on this,” the official said.

Drawing a comparison between the two tanks, DRDO says Arjun has a greater power-to-weight ratio, a hydro-pneumatic suspension 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.

Minister of State for Defence Production Rao Inderjit Singh has also hinted at a conspiracy to “sabotage” the Arjun tank.

“The possibility of sabotage needs to be examined. The German engines fitted in the tanks were performing well for the past 15 years. I wonder what has happened to them overnight,” Singh had said in April, while commenting on the army’s assessment after the tank’s winter trials.

On its part, the army has rejected any suggestions of sabotage.

Arjun was meant to supplement and eventually replace the Soviet-era T-72 MBTs that were 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.

Of these, 186 were assembled from kits at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, near Chennai. An agreement was also signed for the licensed production of another 1,000 T-90s.

With the development of the Arjun delayed further, India last year signed a fresh contract with Russia to buy 330 more T-90s.

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