ONLY FOR HARDCORE TANK BUFFS: The Arjun controversy - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Thursday 17 April 2008


This post is a prelude to an article that I'm writing on the recent controversy over the Army’s statement to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, which was tabled in parliament as a part of the Committee’s 29th Report. The part relating to the Arjun, in Para 8.18 of the report, is quoted below:

8.18. During evidence before the Committee, a representative of the Army clarifying the position regarding performance of the Arjun tank submitted as under:-

“Sir, we have just carried out the trial in winter. The tanks have performed very poorly. There have been four engine failures so far. The tanks have done about 1000 km each. There has been a problem. The Defence Minister has been apprised by the Chief. I think two or three days back, he has written a DO letter giving the exact position. So a lot of improvements have to be done before the Army will be satisfied with the Arjun tank.”

The factual position

During the AUCRT in Pokhran, there was NO problem with either of the two engines. The problems were actually with four transmission systems: supplied by Renk AG, from Germany.

The problem: When the oil temperature went up, the oil viscosity was reduced… and the oil pressure was therefore insufficient. As a result, the bearing gave way, and the main shaft in the transmission also got damaged. Pieces were flying around and, when the transmission gearbox was opened, it looked pretty ugly.

The investigations are focusing on three aspects:

1.    The possibility that the use of indigenous oil, rather than German oil, may have led to a failure of lubrication. The CQA (PP)… that is Controller of Quality Assurance (Petroleum Products)… has examined the oil and said that it is of the same grade as the foreign oil. However, the experts from Renk AG are still not convinced. They have taken samples of the oil to Germany to analyse, are will reach a conclusion by Monday, 21st April.

2.    The possibility that recent changes made to the Arjun’s system of dual gear levers might have led to the problem. The driver has a Mode Selector Switch (with options: Forward-Neutral-Reverse)… and also a gear lever (with options: 1, 2, 3, Automatic). So totally, the tank has four forward and two reverse gears. Recently, when the production series tanks began being manufactured, the Gear Lever options were changed to (1, 2, Automatic). In the new system, gears 3 and 4 engage and disengage automatically. In fact, one school of thought amongst the designers is to have just the first gear manual… and then 2-4 automatic, i.e. (1, Automatic).

The CVRDE’s Transmission Group Team has recommended that another Manual Gear lever be introduced. That would be used while tow starting the tank. There are also problems with the logic of gear change in the Pokharan area where the tests are taking place. Unlike the Suratgarh desert, which had heavy sand, the Pokhran desert has hard, flat ground. Since the driving conditions are different, the logic for gear changing has to be different, and the micro-switches that signal the gear changes have to be calibrated differently.

3.    There is also a possibility that a recent change in the supplier of the bearing that failed might have led to the problem. [Renk AG, which manufactures the gearbox, recently changed its bearing supplier.]

Experts from Renk AG are reaching the trial area and also CVRDE, Avadi, on 22nd April. Renk AG is one of the world’s most respected suppliers of transmission systems and it’s prestige is at stake here. A top Arjun designer says, “Renk’s prestige is at stake. I have no doubt they will fix the problem fast.”

Problems with four HSUs

The second problem that the Arjun faced was in some Hydro-pneumatic Suspension Units (HSUs). The Arjun has 7 road wheel stations on each side, which means that each tank has 14 HSUs. With two tanks participating in the trials, there were 28 HSUs that were effectively taking part. Of these, four HSUs failed.

One of them was a genuine failure, in which the HSU’s breather pipe got damaged and sand went in through that. The other three HSUs failed after 2000 km of running. HVF lays down a service life of 2000 km for each HSU, so that was predictable. This was not a problem at all.

It might also be noted that it takes just two hours to replace an HSU in the Arjun. This tank does not have a torsion bar suspension, in which replacing a road wheel station was a major undertaking.

Incidentally, the HSU has been an area where the Arjun’s designers have put in some really serious thinking. The terrain in Pokhran, which is flat and hard, generates in the HSU pistons a low amplitude, high frequency vibration. That is in contrast to heavy sand dune country like Suratgarh, where the HSU pistons undergo a high amplitude, low frequency vibration. In Suratgarh there were no problems, but the resurfacing of problems (albeit after the specified service life) in Pokhran brings to mind the earlier problems in which HSUs were leaking while the tank was being transported by train. The low-amplitude, high frequency vibrations generated by the vibrations of a train were enough to cause the HSUs to leak. That problem was resolved by changing the rings of the floating piston in the HSU. Also, the CVRDE tried out different types of piston rings, including imported ones from Hunger, Germany. Eventually, a life of 2000 km was achieved.

Problems with top rollers

Three or four top rollers also failed. That is being investigated.

Problems with tank Muzzle Reference Sight (MRS)

Of the two tanks undergoing AUCRT, one had a problem with the MRS, which was found to shift when the tank fired. This could have been easily overcome by firing through other means, disregarding the MRS. But suffice to say, the MRS had a problem.

These are very interesting dimensions to the trials in Pokhran, but far more interesting is the way the Army has reacted to them… taking the opportunity to slam the CVRDE for a “substandard” tank. An article on that will be appearing in the Business Standard on Saturday morning.

And, of course, it will be posted here on Broadsword.


  1. Ahh, that clears up lot of things. Does that mean Army lied to the parliament? Trouble in transmission can be technically called 'Powertrain' problem, but not engine trouble!

    This is very disturbing to say the least.

  2. Thanks ShuklaJi for sharing this.So do you have any idea where all of this is leading to regarding the future of this tank?I also wanted to have an objective rating from a veteran tanker like you about the various tanks.Can you please rate the tanks in IA inventory on a scale of 1 to 10 just so that we have an idea where all of it stands in your opinion.I know it isnt so easy but anyway it will act as a rough guide to us non-tankers ;).Lets include T-72 T-90 Arjun and maybe challenger and Abrams?

  3. Mr. Shukla, the precise and in-depth detail of the problem that you posted made for excellent reading. The apprehension of "catching the thin thorn in the large wound" or "needle in the stack" was felt, rather than the "blaise" reply from the Army Chief (possibly a lay man) to Mr. Antony (a politician).

    The post was extremely informative, and it is for certain that even after being pointed this out, NO newspaper like ToI or the Indian Express will publish a rejoinder, that the technical fault lays with the German company, Renk, which manufactured the transmissions and not the tank or its engine itself.

    I fully agree with your view, that the Army Chief has reacted much too critically, that is heavily overdone at the least. This is compounded by the fact that he is inaccurate about the problem itself i.e. transmissions, and not engines.
    All these point towards very uncomfortable conclusions and implications, similar to the ones raised by Lt. General H S Panag recently about the Army Chief's actions.

    Sir, once this article appears in the mainstream Business Standard, it will be one of the recent "torch-bearers", setting a new frontier in defence reportage in India. "Shoddy" reportage by Indian Express, or by Mr. Rajat Pandit like, "Arjun fails in trials", will no longer be bought by the public.

    Thank you.

  4. Excellent and timely report Ajaiji... clears up a lot of questions. Looks like it was not a design problem at all....

    Only worry is that if the oil temp went up in the winter trials itself, what will happen during the summer ones.

  5. We had enough of this, no matter what army will not take arjun and to get arjun to their standard will take another 10 years so we should give up arjun and spend that tax rupees on something else.

  6. Bravo Shukla Ji for exposing the Half truths of the Army. Its high time these people who testify in front of the standing committee are exposed and tried for treason. Also I want to applaud your objective reporting as against the sensationalist reporting done by some of your colleagues. If Arjun needs rectifications so be it, but lets not discredit its performance with half truths especially when you chicken out of comparative trials and do an AUCRT with no third party supervision. I recall the words of the Major Gen. in your NDTV piece where he said that Arjun should get a level playing field. Seems such officers voices have been completely muffled. Its a steady erosion in the credentials of one of the last institutions of India with high standards. Sigh....

  7. Time to use RTI and find out the truth. This army has gone out the whole 9 yards to reject Arjun and protect the russian lobby. The DRDO should pull out of this project and offer its tanks for export. It'll be nice to see african nations fighting their civil wars in the sahara with arjun. Their feedback will be more useful than the army's.

  8. Its amazing to see how the army is showcasing the T90s at the recent brazen chariots and bashing its ghar ki murgi with half truths. Shameful to say the least. I just say if the army chief really believes in what he says he should sit in the T90 while the arjun takes aim on it, Lets see if he can live the day to say this again "So, a lot of improvements have to be done before the Army will be satisfied on the Arjun tank.” If he does then lets STFU.

  9. This may sound ridiculous but let navy take this tank and form its own marine expeditionary armored brigade (now that the Arjun has got medium water fording capabilities) just like the army that wants to have its air force with ground attack aircrafts and what not. It'll be one tight slap on its face. I sincerely hope the army chief is reading this blog, if not someone can email him the links to this blog just to let him know what the tax payers think.

  10. I'm sure this latest report will be used as a justification to import 1000 more T90s with 1000 Thermal Imagers Main Gunner Sight from France because the Russian ones don't work and the army doesn't complain to the standing committee like this. I guess only an arms embargo on India will make the army accept the Arjun which is not happening anytime soon.

  11. I wonder why bean counters in CAG don't nail the army on this when they are so eager regarding the Rakshaks which actually saved lives and proved its worth on field.

  12. Normal (excellent) service is resumed! Absolutely fascinating reading, Sir.

    Would love it even more if you could do something similar in the future for the LCA. I know that you have covered the bird extensively in the past - but it was in bits an pieces, mainly due to the nature of the news reported. Would be awesome to have a status report on the overall project, the last snags on the LCA (and possibly the development of the Naval variant).

    Many thanks in advance!

  13. great article Mr shukla. Enjoyed very much.It was MOD and army which recalled the comparitive trials between Arjun, T-90 and T-72 giving an analogy that you cannot compare regular cars to an BMW. If army chief is so confident of arjun not being upto the mark, why not do comparitive trials with full media glare?. That will clear everything.

  14. Ajai

    Best wishes on a well written and hard hitting article. If half of desi press articles were half as good as this one, Indian press would be far far ahead of where it is right now.

  15. Anonymous, it would be unfair to rate the Challenger and the Abrams in an Indian context, for the simple reason that the tanks were not designed for the operational requirements of the Indian Army. Both are heavy MBTs, designed to operate in Europe against a Russian invasion, in which long stand-off engagement capability would counter the sheer mass of Russian armour.

    In contrast, the Russian T-72 and T-90 was designed for the same terrain and climatic environment, but for shorter range engagements in a more "disposable" (if you get what I mean!) kind of way. Which means that the Russians were okay with losing eight tanks in a squadron if the remaining ones managed to blow away the three NATO tanks opposing them.

    Also, the Russian tanks have minimal air defence capability (against both ground attack aircraft and attack helicopters) partly because the Russian Air Force would have already achieved a favourable air situation and partly because the tank columns would be accompanied by mobile AD cover.

    Against these two alien beasts, we have the Arjun, which was designed by the Army Fantasy Machine from brochures, and then the GSQR was regularly updated from Military Technology magazine advertisements!

    It's all such a completely ridiculous situation!

    The basis of my long post on Bharat Rakshak some years ago... was exactly this: that India's home built MBT needs a home-tailored design. A design which will cater for our geography, our climate, our engagement ranges, our enemy, our tank corps, and the way that we plan to fight.

    (That post was attacked without being understood or addressed; in standard BR fashion, it was insinuated that I was in the pay of the Russians!!)

    The shocking truth is that such a cold assessment of WHAT our tank should consist of has NEVER been carried out by our mechanised forces. Instead, we just compare ready-built off-the-shelf options and choose one... and then reverse engineer reasons for buying it.

    It's like a starving tribal somewhere being led to a buffet which consists of avocadoes, strawberries and bean curd... and then told: choose one.

    I believe today that the Arjun has reached a point of development when --- for broad strategic reasons --- it must be supported by the army. But please, let's be clear! The Arjun is only a stepping stone. The DRDO has to move on from here and build a tank (or tanks... whether we need two or three types of tanks is another vital debate) which is conceptually designed for India.

    But that's an article for another day!

  16. "'What we have today is a mid-level technology. What we need is a tank of international quality,' Kapoor said last November". And T90 is an international tank ? one whose teething troubles were brushed under the carpet and then more of its purchase was justified. Gen. Kapoor does your army mechanized workshops even have the capability to absorb this mid-level technology ?? If yes, then please get on the task of developing the FMBT-2020 that one keeps hearing, instead of asking DRDO to do it. I'm sure your workshops can design and build a tank that can even fly supersonic, DRDO is too full of prehistoric technologies.

  17. Why should DRDO care Shukla Ji ? They are better off developing Tank Ex for Export to African and east european countries. Besides, DRDO has already has lot of other projects. Why waste your intellect for a "customer" who is just not interested and will use every opportunity whenever your product has deficiencies as justification to buy foreign maal. I think DRDO should say just f*** off and move onto other projects. If and when someday our neighbors suddenly decide to go for a western tank I'm sure the Arjun protos will be dusted and brought back to life. Till then indigenous tank development be DAMNED !!!

  18. How many arjuns we should buy versus how many T90s we should buy I don't care. What bothers me is the step motherly attitude shown by the army towards indigenous development. Contrast the statement with that of the navy and btw Why for heaven's sake does the Army (world's 4th largest IIRC) not have a design directorate for armoured vehicles like the navy has for principal surface combatants ?
    Is russia going to transfer tank engine/transmission design technology. Most likely no, It'll only give buiding blocks which the OFB will assemble. Also after getting the T90 "technology" will the army workshops be able to design and develop (heck, even reverse engineer) their own version of the T90 ?
    Also, how do you otherwise propose to end import dependence of Main Battle Tanks in India ?
    Why were comparative trials canceled at the eleventh hour ?
    We are going to ask lots of uncomfortable questions now since this bid to stifle indigenous development has now crossed all limits.

  19. Thank goodness ! DRDO is not developing any tube arty for the army or it would have met the same fate. And thanks to no indigenous effort the whole acquisition process of 155 mm tube arty is sucked up in the BOFORS blackhole which means that as long as the present GOI is in no BOFORS for the army no matter how much the army wants it and no matter if its battle proven now. Its just a matter of time when something similar will happen to the tank acquisition process and then no tank imports as well. Truly Amazing !!!

  20. Wonder how INSAS got through ? AKs seem to be good enough since our neighbours have only AK variants one wonders why did we need the INSAS ? Our number fetish wants the 90 because the neighbour has the 80 UD version of the tin can. Lets hope our neighbour gets M1A2 maybe just maybe Arjun might get a chance

  21. I wish in coming user trials of Nag a T90 is chosen as the target. I would love to see the T90 blasted to pieces in top attack mode its ERA protection not withstanding. But then if wishes were horses........

  22. Thank you for the insightful article and for telling it like it is. I am glad there are still a few good journalists around who aren't in the pockets of the arms import lobbyists. And shame on you Indian Army; it breaks our hearts that you choose to act so boldly against Indian interests.

  23. Thanks a lot ShuklaJi for your views.It sure is a mess right now.So the next questions to you are:
    1)Arjun may not be perfect/tailormade for home conditions..but isnt it better than the other options that India currently have?That is the most significant point isnt it..which is the best choice at this present moment?Thats why I wanted to have an objective comparison between where the Russian tanks and Arjun stand for a tankers viewpoint.
    [It seems to me that the western concept of fighting warfare is better.Even Russia is reported to be shifting towards western concepts not only in tank design but also other fields such as the Airforce and the Navy.]

    2)A little broader question...if you were in charge right now of procurement what would you have done to clear up this mess?

    Thanks again.Your views are really appreciated.

    Anon @17April 23:14

  24. Can someone clarify why tanks and armour is needed on the Western border any more? IMO, nukes pretty much make them obsolete.

    Presumably building a 1000 or so nukes ready to rain on on Pakistan should be enough to deter any adventurism, no? And what better way to show we mean business than to use them the next time we have a cold.

  25. Do you have "it" in you, INDIAN ARMY ? By "it" I mean a conscience ! Seems like its SOLD OUT !

  26. Can someone clarify why tanks and armour is needed on the Western border any more? IMO, nukes pretty much make them obsolete.

    So we had nukes during kargil...that detered their adventurism didnt it?

  27. I note that my indignation over the Arjun is pretty much shared by most posters... unusual... I'm much more used to dealing with flak!!

    But I've noted your questions. One article will be published in Business Standard tomorrow morning and I will also post it here.

    And to answer your other questions --- what I would do if I were making the decisions, and what should be India's tank philosophy --- I will address those questions in my column, Broadsword, which will be published on Tuesday, the 15th. I'll post that on the blog as well, on Tuesday morning.

    Sorry for linking the answers to your perfectly valid questions with journalistic deadlines. But, sadly, I have to earn a living and journalism is the way I do it!

  28. See the tone of the testimony "The tanks have performed very poorly." Damn it so therefore use it as an excuse to Import ! ? As co-developers and as the end users the Army shares an equal responsibility doesn't it ? Contrast it to the attitude of the navy. How come NPOL and NSTL can churn out one successful product after another and CVRDE cannot, Simply the attitude of the end user. Couldn't the army say " There are some problems but they can be worked out, no big deal" but this is a buyer's army and not a builder's army so they can buy and live with a substandard product but not build a product that has a potential to become world class

  29. This army deserves its T90s. Made for each other. I pity the tank crews, the day they face a western Main Battle Tank in their Tin Can-90.

  30. Sorry, that Broadsword will come out on Tuesday, 22nd April, not 15th April which has already gone by.

  31. Ajai! what is the reaction of our SA ,whose baby is ARJUN.why dont you you try an appointment with him and take his opinion. Since he is the designer and DRDO supremo, he may have lot of things to tell. Had Kalam sahab continued, the scenario would have been differnet? i am totally confused! is the tank so unacceptable?

  32. Wah Wah DRDO-Bhakshaks, Instead of thinking deeply, why do one problem pops up when trying to rectify the other, what we have is a fietish to paint Army in poor light. Did the DRDO did the job perfectly??
    Did they know about oil grade....??
    Do the Renk is supplying shoddy transmission??

    Has Drdo checked all the system to work thoroughly?

    These question if the DODO had ans , it should not had made a mess in "winter trail".

    Let's see how the prepare themselves for "Summer Trail" with the same oil??

  33. from the looks of it there may not any summer trials at all. the army seems to have made its mind already

  34. So we had nukes during kargil...that detered their adventurism didnt it?

    If we had used a 100 or so that wouldn't that have put an end to it?

  35. yeah you are right and I don't think many of us would be alive either to post in this forum. Yeah ! Lets nuke a country just because we didn't have the right tank to fight them. Way to go !!!

  36. I'm don't want to defend the DRDO they are responsible for the mess to begin with BUT the attitude of the army isn't helping either, thats what bothers me

  37. A very informative article. MOD is clearly being misinformed by the IA, and I hope DRDO doesn't just sit quietly but mounts its own PR campaign.

    I however do take exception to this point:
    "The Arjun is only a stepping stone. The DRDO has to move on from here and build a tank (or tanks... whether we need two or three types of tanks is another vital debate) which is conceptually designed for India."

    Agreed that we need to move on and build a follow-up to Arjun, but for that to happen, IA first needs to accept Arjun by mass-ordering it, use it extensively and then come up with an objective list of its shortcomings and upgrades. And it is the ARMY that needs to give requirements to DRDO for the next tank, hopefully designed for India. DRDO just builds, it doesn't come up with the requirements. It is the ARMY that needs to move on, not DRDO.

  38. COAS needs to shift attention as he has been in center of contraversy on many counts - be it "rations mess" misappropriation of funds during his tenure in northern command, number of suicides - i am sure he must be under tramendous pressure. Imagine at his level he is accused of misappropriating funds that too some "garden equipmments" for several crores(?). may be he thought no one will look into it. Hence he is too quick to react (knee jerk reaction - whereas we need a visionary like Gen Sunderji) and condemn Arjun. In times like this calls for strong political message. Do we have "Margaret Thatcher" "The Iron Lady" kind of leadership in India? She took the decision for Challenger 2 against Abrams despite the Army was vehemently opposed it. She stood her stand and made the British Army to work with then Vickers to resolve all the relaibility issues. The Army was forced to do that and today that decision has been hailed by one and all including the Army - which disposed before their parliamentary committee that Challenger 2 has prooved its worth in the op desert storm and was major asset in the battle. All this is now public knowledge - provided someone is interested in knowing such things.
    Its an eye opener.

    But the issue is - if someone is sleeping one can wake him up.
    But if he pretend to sleep - no one can open his eyes.

    With elections round the corner Army has realised that everyone in Political arena is stuck with their own problem - its right time to blow the whistle. May be the govt should ask pvt sector consortia like Tata&LT to build next 10 tanks and compare the quality. if they do better then may be hand over the indigenous production to Private sector. oppurtunities are plenty only the govt has to take the call. The industries are ready to take the challenge.

  39. Hats off to you Ajai Ji. Just read your report in Business Standard. Outstanding job Sir. It is heartening to see that you are serving the country in the same zeal as you did while in Armed forces.

  40. Sunil: is there an internet link to this article? Please do share.

  41. Yeah ! Lets nuke a country just because we didn't have the right tank to fight them. Way to go !!!

    No, let's nuke a country if we have to so as to take care of business in the east. And the tank is not useful in the east, so it's too little too late.

  42. Dear Ajai, very informative article. I am very happy to see that defence journos like you are actually digging out facts and exposing the bias in the army rather than some rehashed stereotype reporting. You should try to get the articles out in some of the leading print circulations. Of course ToI, Indian Express types won't print it, we all know where their loyalties lie. But if you could get it out to some of the leading non-english dailies it will really inform the public on the bs going on in the name of trials. We really appreciate your hard work and spirit.

  43. Dear Ajayji,

    Isn't it true that our Arjun is pretty much a copy of the the German Leopard MBT. Other than the Kanchan armour and the rifled main gun everthing else including the tracks of the tank are imported! To be correct DRDO never really developed anything themselves for the tank. It would probably have been better had DRDDO just license manufactured the Leopard in India.

    I have with me an article published in India Today in July 1993. It talks about six tanks being handed over to 43 Cavalary for testing at Mahajan ranges in Rajasthan. Even during those trials in 1993 the army was seen to be complaining about HSU gas leaks after covering 2000 Kms!!

    So even after 15 years of testing the army is crying about the same problem! This is just unbelievable!

  44. Below are some quotes I have taken out from article in India Today published in July 1993:

    General B.C.Joshi (Chief of staff):

    "The tank is a winner. The major problems have been surmounted and others
    that remain are lickable. What is indigenous about the tank is its design, which is tailored
    to meet our operational requirements. Only those items which are restricted need to be indigenised."

    Lt General Ajai Singh (DG, combat vehicles):

    "Arjun will rank with the US XM-1 in the bracket of top tanks in the world."


    There sure has been a hell lot of change in the atitude of top brass toward the Arjun
    in these 15 years! :(


  46. Would the anony porkis posting here please get lost. You know who you are.


Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last