Sabotage suspected in Arjun tank engine; black box installed

July 13th, 2008 - 2:25 pm ICT by IANS  

By Ritu Sharma
New Delhi, July 13 (IANS) The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has installed a black box-like instrument in the indigenous main battle tank (MBT) Arjun, under development for nearly 36 years, following attempts to “sabotage” its engine. The instrument was installed after the Indian Army termed the winter trial of the Arjun tank a “failure”. Attempts to sabotage the trials of the Arjun tank have failed after the black box was installed, said authorities.

“The German company Renk AG supplying the engines for the Arjun tank stumbled upon the tinkering with its engines after a complaint from the Indian Army that the tank’s gear box failed during its winter trials in Pokhran and Mahajan field range,” a DRDO official told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Following this we have installed an instrument similar to the data recorder or black box in aircraft that would record all the information related to the engines,” he added.

The army had told a key parliamentary panel earlier this month that the Arjun tank failed to deliver at the just-concluded winter trials. The army said that many improvements had to be carried out before it was satisfied with the tank.

After the complaint, engineers from the German company were summoned to have a look at the tank while a special team was sent to Germany.

“Army officials were curious to know about the new instrument, which was installed before the summer trials, which has been successful,” the official said.

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

“The possibility of sabotage needs to be examined. The engines fitted in the tanks were German and were performing well for the past 15 years. I wonder what has happened to them overnight,” Singh had said, talking about the reported failures of the tank.

However, the army has denied the allegations of sabotage.

The startling revelation from the DRDO has come even as the Indian Army seems to have sounded the death knell for the Arjun tanks, saying it would purchase no more than the 124 it had signed a contract for.

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

The army had 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 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 HVF at Avadi. 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 another 330 T-90s.

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