THE BIG ARJUN QUESTION????? - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 13 September 2007


The responses to the Arjun tank story that I did on NDTV, as well as in the Business Standard are revealing. The rationale behind most of the postings is: Ajai Shukla has seen the light! At last he’s come around to admitting what all of us knew all along: that the Arjun is a brilliant tank.

Many folks don’t read carefully… they just run their eyes over a page and jump to a conclusion. And then they turn into pamphleteers, guided by a pre-conceived viewpoint and using rhetoric and half-truths to purvey that point of view. For journalists, on the other hand, every word is important and describes events that are happening or have happened. That’s very different from the way pamphleteers write and understand things.

But let’s not go there. Let’s just answer the question that someone asked: “Mr. Shukla,
I would like to know what information you have learned during the last 2-3 months which made you turnaround on your stand on Arjun.”

To begin with, let’s be intellectually rigorous. There are two avatars in which I write: one, as a journalist, and secondly, as an analyst. As the former, I don’t have a view; I only report what is happening. When I write as an analyst, I convey my views. And like a good analyst, it’s based on a clear knowledge of what’s happening.

For now, let’s just look at journalism.

In this specific case, I’ve reported all along on how the Arjun project is coming along, what is going wrong, what is going right, what the DRDO is doing and saying, and what the MoD and the military attitudes and policies are.

The position right now is… as my stories on NDTV and the Business Standard say… many of the problems that had plagued the Arjun have been sorted out. In contrast, one of the problems that afflict the T-90 has NOT been sorted out. Therefore, the army is trying to scuttle the trials so that it does not have to rework the armour acquisition plan. It fears that, at this point in time, the Arjun may outperform the T-90 in trials. The MoD has confirmed the cancellation of comparative trials and says this is because you cannot compare apples and oranges, the Arjun and the T-90, which is not a tenable argument because they were always about to compare apples and oranges.

That’s all the story says. 

So the question above should really be phrased as: Mr Shukla, what has happened in the last two years (when you said on Bharat Rakshak that the Arjun had serious problems) that has changed what you are reporting (NOT changed your stand, because, remember, my story does not indicate what my stand is).

That would be the intellectually correct question, and that is the question that I will answer, even though what I’m about to tell you is not yet in the public domain. But then, I’ve had access all along to everything that is not in the public domain, whereas most others work off public domain statements.

Let me tell you the story of Summer Trials, June 2005, Mahajan Field Firing Ranges: This, the Arjun team from CVRDE believed, was going to be the big moment when they would prove themselves. The five PPS Arjuns were going to fire before the highest-powered army team ever to witness Arjun trials. The team consisted of: Lt Gen Pattabhiraman, GOC-in-C Western Command, Lt Gen Nagaraj, GOC-in-C South Western Command, Maj Gen Pradeep Khanna, GOC 1 Armd Div, Lt Gen DS Shekhawat, GOC 2 Corps, Lt Gen GD Singh, DGMF… all of them were present.

It was a typical June morning in Mahajan… heat shimmers, the sun already high at 8 pm, temperatures already pushing 45 degrees. When the first shots rang out as the tanks started zeroing, the crews came out and told the trial team that the LRFs were giving wonky ranges. Totally wonky. Like indicating 600 metres instead of 2400 metres. Switches were also tripping, for no accountable reason.

As the generals twiddled their thumbs and drank lassi and ate kaajus, the CVRDE team tried to find out what had gone wrong. After a couple of hours, they reached the conclusion that the electronics were unable to operate in those temperatures.

The generals got into their helicopters and left for their headquarters. The army chief, who was to attend the trials next morning was rung up and told to call off the trip. The Arjuns packed up and left for Avadi, for a major re-engineering of their electronics, to enable them to function up to 60 degrees.

To make the picture even rosier, mobility trials had indicated that the problem with the Hydropneumatic Suspension Units (HSUs) hadn’t been resolved either. The pistons were not strong enough; major re-engineering was required by BEML and the Kirloskars.

That was the situation in June 2005.

It got even worse that December. 

That was when five Arjun tanks were to go for comparative trials. The teams that were re-engineering the HSUs and the electronics weren’t able to finish. So, after a big ceremony, after five Arjuns from the production line were unveiled at a function in Avadi by the defence minister, the carpets were rolled up, the slideshow put away, and the tanks rolled back into the sheds for work to continue.

Trials were out of the question at that time.

That was when I was posting on Bharat Rakshak and saying that the Arjun project was in serious trouble. It was. And that is when, without any knowledge of what was going on, the Arjun Brigade was insisting that the tank was outstanding and it was only being scuttled by a vindictive army.

To turn around today, when many of those problems have been fixed in the Arjun, and say that, “wow, we knew we were right, Ajai Shukla was so so soooo wrong”, is a bit rich. Most people didn’t know what was happening then, because I didn’t think it right to report all those details. They only know what is happening now because I’ve told them that the problems are solved.” I was right then, and I’m right now. They were wrong then, even if they’re right now.

So to say, they knew how great the Arjun was is a bit like saying… about a kid in a remand home who eventually turns out good… “Oh, I know that kid was good and everyone who criticised and corrected him were wrong. He’s turnout out good, hasn’t he?”

People who have strong positions, without knowing the facts, are really just pamphleteers.

This is not the end of the story. The Arjun will still have more problems; the T-90 will resolve its own crisis. This story will continue to be reported. But the savants who have already decided the ending are invited not to read the intervening account!


  1. Dear Sir,

    Thank you for your explanation. I can understand that as an analyst and a reporter you wear two different hats and have different functions. Sometimes for your audience, it is hard to separate when you giving facts as oppossed to opinion.

    With regards to Arjun, would you care to comment on perceptions that the Army has been much more demanding of the indigenous product and much more forgiving of the imported product? There are opinions that while the Army has been willing to work with the Russians on the T90, they have used every problem with the Arjun to lambast DRDO.

    As an aside, I particularly enjoyed your piece on how Arjun production was seeping into Indian industry and would have accompanying payoffs.



  2. Mr. Shukla, as Zero's report has demonstrated, the problems that you had witnessed in June 2005 were recified. Its not as though they were perpetual and recurrent. By 2007, remaining problems like suspension were rectified (also reported by you earlier in 2007).

    Now, the following were the teething problems of the T-90 tank :-

    The include problems in :

    1) Overheating

    2) Thermal imaging problems due to overheating

    3) Night vision inadequate.

    4) Shells bursting inside the tanks.

    None except IBN exposed the T-90's problems to the public. As though all the ire was reserved only for Arjun. This proves that sufficient conditions existed for the induction of the equally error-prone Arjun (and whose errors have now been fully rectified). But the army demanded the moon from the Arjun, while looking the other way while importing the T-90s.

    Thank you.

  3. Ajai,

    Thanks for the offer for a coffee and visiting my blog You will hear from me in your email account soon.

  4. Mr. Shukla,
    Thankyou for the explanation of my question. As rakam above said, we are not gifted enough to see the difference between a reporter and analyst and who sometimes oscillates between these two positions. There have been articles from you where in one sentence was that of a reporter and after few sentences, you have quitely donned the hat of a analyst(which I agree is part and parcel of journalism). Now when anyone does that, what we normal people, without going into the journalistic sense, see them all as the analyst.

    Yes, sir, now I ask you a few questions?
    i) T-90 still faces huge problems in high temperatures, but was this problem checked before INDUCTION. Arjun is still in the design phase and arjun is ours. so was t-90 subjected to the same tests as arjun is being asked to undergo by the army? (should actually be higher because its and acqusition not development)
    ii)Why is the army acting as if it is drdo's arjun? It has to be army's arjun, which is when army moves from being an acquirer to an developer.
    iii)when the gsqr for the arjun was sent to drdo, did not the army not know all about the logistical problems of weight for arjun? If so , why did they have give such an gsqr? What were the doctrinal developments which took place when giving out such an gsqr? What are the doctrinal developments which have taken place recently that they say arjun is heavier? or was it a simple case, where Pakistan was going to western mbts in 90 and as a knee jerk response, this was initiated? or to put it in a more simple statement, goi had asked army to give drdo a tank project so we gave it. was this the case?

    A project can never succeed unless the user constantly demands and needs it, a lesson which we all too often learn in my field.

  5. "Confirming that comparative trials would no longer be held, the MoD reasoned that it wasn’t possible to compare “a Maruti with a BMW”. The MoD’s logic that the 60-tonne Arjun couldn’t be compared with the 46-tonne T-90 is hardly credible; neither tank has gained or lost much weight since the comparative trials were ordered."

    The bolded part was according to you of a reporter, whereas the succeeding part was that of an analyst. You have changed the hats with a dot and you expect us to understand that every single time?

    The wall between reporting and analysing is very thin, and unless the reporter specially somewhere says it as such or only quotes a news agency, it will always be better to determine the report as analysis, which is what everyone did.

    A small question since you may be privy to these details:
    You have stated that arjun failed in the summer temps 2 years ago, was a test conducted before that in normal temps? Did it succeed in those temps or did it fail even then?

  6. I agree entirely with Zero's observation that the AUCRT trials will turn into an evaluation.

    What he doesn't say is... it will be an evaluation in which the Arjun will appear to perform poorly. The reason is simple. Neither the MoD, nor the Indian Army have a clear evaluation model laid down, so a tank like the Arjun, built on a modular concept, will seem to be eating up huge resources during the AUCRT.

    To illustrate, if a T-90 was to have a problem with, say a scavenging pump, the tank would go to the workshop, spend 24 hours having the engine taken out, the pump dismantled, repaired, and then put back. Then the engine would be fitted back again. On the other hand, if an Arjun was to have the same problem, it would be down for just about 2-4 hours. The engine would be removed, a new engine fitted, the tank back in action. Then the engine would be taken to the EME workshop, or even the regiment's LRW, and the pump exchanged for another one. And then the offending pump would be sent back and repaired by a specialist.

    The upshot? Very little downtime for the Arjun, as compared to the T-90. But from the point of view of a badly-framed AUCRT, it could be noted, "The Arjun had to have its engine replaced". That would make the Arjun seem an expensive, hard-to-maintain tank.

    Which is why I say: the best hope for the Arjun is that they do a good job with the production series tanks and the users come on board. Two regiments cheering for the Arjun will make a huge difference to its prospects.

    And in any case, the Secretary Defence Production has told me that the second order of 124 tanks (improved Arjuns) is almost a given.

    Watch this space.

  7. That is not my observation. I am merely posting some news.

    That news site is published by Mr. P . Chacko Joseph

  8. Col. Shukla,

    On BRF you had mentioned that the build quality of the Arjun from the HVF was shoddy and that it was more susceptible to poor quality production than the T-72 and T-90 series which was simpler and easier to assemble. Have you had reason to revise this opinion?

    Also, if I remember correctly, one of your criticisms of the Arjun was its high visibility and the fact that its superior laser range finder and fire control doesn't offer an advantage in typical Indo-Pak combat conditions of broken country. Do you still hold that this is true or is it possible that 2 regiments of Arjun users can evolve different doctrines to make use of these features?



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