The latest round of user trials has made it clear that even after 30 years of development, Arjun Tank comes nowhere near meeting minimum operational requirements of the Army.
However, what is worrying the top brass is that DRDO’s insistence on inducting larger numbers of the indigenous tank will come in the way of a newer, better “Main Battle Tank (MBT) of the future” that is now required by the Army.
While Army HQ is not even thinking about extending its original order of 124 Arjun Tanks for two regiments, given that it is unacceptable for induction in the present form, the top brass is concerned that continued DRDO efforts on the Arjun will delay its requirement of a futuristic MBT.
The Army has now told DRDO that there is no point bickering about the past and the Arjun Tank should be treated as a technology demonstrator and a platform to work on a totally new tank design for the future.
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There is a certain degree of urgency in the Army’s demand as it is aware of an increasing void in the tank armoury and its requirement of 3,500 tanks to replace the ageing T 72 MBT.
“After 30 years, the Arjun has not fructified, and now we need to start with a new design and a new tank. We have always said that a next (generation) tank has to come out in due course of time. We now have a base and expertise to start on the futuristic tank,” Lt Gen KDS Shekhawat, who till February was Director General of Mechanised Forces at Army HQ, said.
The current round of winter trials, where the German-origin power pack of the tank failed four times within a run of 1,000 kms, is the latest in the series of setbacks that have dogged the project since its inception in 1974.
The Army is disappointed that the tank has failed to deliver on every single count that was citied for the prolonged indigenous research project. The engine, tracks, transmissions and gunners sight — that together account for 60 per cent of its cost — are all imported.
“When we placed the order, 60 per cent of the components were imported. It was going to cost us Rs 25 crore at a time when the T 90 was available for below Rs 10 crore. But it was an indigenous effort, so we agreed for 124 tanks. But not much has changed. We still remain dependant on foreign firms, and there is a lot of unhappiness as it has not met operational requirements of the Army,” feels General VP Malik, who was the Army chief during the Kargil conflict.
The Army is not just questioning the technology of the tank but is also worried about Arjun’s reliability factor given that various components of the tank have not been tested in harsh climatic conditions and terrain unique to India.
As demonstrated during the ongoing Accelerated Usage-cum-Reliability Trials (AUCRT) of the Arjun tank (crucial to clear it for bulk production), the German engine failed four times as it had never been extensively tested by the Army in desert conditions in the past.
Besides, the Army also found “unacceptable” the chipping of the gun barrel during firing trials. The old problem in the hydro pneumatic suspension system also resurfaced.
The next litmus test for the Arjun comes on May 5 when DRDO will make a presentation at Army HQ to explain the defects and the steps taken to rectify the engine faults. Ironically, the DRDO, which was supposed to clarify on the trials this month itself, delayed the presentation by close to two weeks, saying it needs more time to prepare a report. After the DRDO presentation, the Army will take a call to either repeat the third round of AUCRT trials or proceed to the fourth “summer round” of the trials.
• General VP Malik, former Army Chief “I can see a lot of unhappiness with the quality of the tank. It is primarily because of very long delay. Even at the end of it all, the tank has not come up to the operational satisfaction of the Army. I am all for self-reliance but we have to make the Arjun more indigenous than it is today.
Lt Gen KDS Shekhawat, former DG, Mechanised Forces No point bickering over past. It is gone. Tanks have a certain shelf life, and now we need a new design looking into the future. Ultimately, it is the men who have to use the tank. If they have confidence, they will love the equipment.
• Brig Gurmeet Kanwal, director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies I don’t really see a major future of the Arjun as the MBT of India. Over all, the Arjun tank has not met certain major parameters. However, the Army had expected that the two regiments to be inducted would meet requirements so that extensive trials could be carried out.
• AV Singh, former defence secretary Regardless of the shortcomings, we must encourage it as an indigenous effort. As far as opening development to the Indian private sector is concerned, it will add to the competition, improve quality and will shorten the development time.