Indian Army sounds indigenous battle tank’s death knell

July 5th, 2008 - 10:38 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 5 (IANS)The Indian Army seems to have sounded the death knell for an indigenous main battle tank (MBT) that has been in the development for nearly 36 years, saying it would purchase no more than the 124 it had signed a contract for. “The Arjun (as the MBT has been named) can, at best serve us for another five or maximum 10 years. What we need is a tank that can serve us for the next 20 to 25 years,” an officer said.

“I’m not saying it is a bad tank. It’s just not suited for our requirements. We need a futuristic tank that is at par with those available around the world,” the officer told IANS on condition of anonymity.

“We will purchase the 124 tanks we have contracted for but no more beyond that,” the officer added.

The army’s thumbs down could well prove to be the last nail in the MBT project, analysts said, pointing to the fact that parliament had been informed in March that the tank had failed to deliver during its winter trials earlier this year.

“We have just carried out the trial in winter. The tank performed very poorly. There have been four engine failures so far,” parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence quoted an army officer as saying.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony tabled the committee’s 29th report in both houses of parliament April 16.

“The defence ministry has been apprised. A lot of improvements have to be done before the army is satisfied with the tank,” the report quoted the army officer as telling the committee at its meeting here in March.

Fourteen Arjun tanks had been 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 fire control system, inaccuracy of its guns, low speeds in tactical areas - principally the deserts - and the tank’s inability to operate in temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius.

Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor and his predecessor, General J.J. Singh, had on separate occasions expressed their unhappiness with the tank.

“What we have today is a mid-level technology. What we need is a tank of international quality,” Kapoor said last November.

Singh had spoken in much in the same vein during a major exercise in Rajasthan’s Thar Desert in April-May, 2007.

“We have to make sure the troops are not exposed to any disadvantage,” Singh replied cryptically when asked about Arjun’s performance during the five-day Exercise ‘Ashwamedh’ for which a squadron of 14 Arjun tanks was deployed.

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.

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

However, with Russia delaying the transfer of technology, the production of these tanks is yet to begin. This, coupled with the delays in Arjun’s development, India last year signed a fresh contract with Russia to buy another 330 T-90s.

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