Arjun versus T-90: Army avoiding trials - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 16 June 2008

Arjun versus T-90: Army avoiding trials

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th June 08

India’s Arjun tank is fighting its first battle even before it enters service with the army. The Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) and key Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials, confident that the Arjun is superior to the army’s Russian T-72 and T-90 tanks, are demanding “comparative trials”, where the Arjun, the T-72 and the T-90, are put through endurance and firing trials in identical conditions.

But the army --- particularly the nodal Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF) --- is shying away. Earlier, the DGMF declared that the T-72 and T-90 were proven tanks, which needed no further trials. Now, with the MoD adding its voice to the demand for comparative trials, the DGMF has told Business Standard that they must be put off until the army gets a full squadron of Arjun tanks (14 tanks) and absorbs the expertise to use them.

DRDO sources say the army is stonewalling on accepting the Arjun by demanding levels of performance that neither of its Russian tanks can deliver. Meanwhile, more T-90s are being imported from Russia on the plea that the army is falling short of tanks.

The DRDO’s fears are grounded in experience. On 28th July 2005, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee informed Parliament, “The Arjun tank is superior to (the) T-90 tank due to its high power to weight ratio, superior fire on the move capability during day and night and excellent ride comfort. MBT Arjun has gone through all the tests and it is meeting the (requirements) of the Army.”

But a year later, in December 2007, India bought 347 more T-90s for Rs 4900 crores. That despite the MoD’s admission in Parliament that the 310 T-90s purchased earlier had problems with their Invar missile systems, and the thermal imagers that are crucial for night fighting.

A comparative trial, says the DRDO, will conclusively establish that the Arjun is a better tank than the T-90. That will at least put a stop to the import of more T-90s.

But the DGMF is putting off such a trial. The DG of Mechanised Forces, Lt Gen D Bhardwaj, told Business Standard, “The Arjun is based on a very stringent GSQR and is in a class by itself. User trials are conducted based on this GSQR. Nevertheless, comparative trials will be conducted once a squadron worth of tanks (i.e. 14 Arjun tanks) are inducted in the army.”

This new insistence on 14 tanks will delay the trials at least till December 08. In 2005, the army had agreed to comparative trials, with five Arjun tanks pitted against five T-72s and an equal number of T-90s. The DGMF had even written the trial directive, spelling out how trials would be conducted. Those trials were postponed as the Arjun was not ready to operate in high summer temperatures. Now the Arjun is ready, but the army is not.

Top MoD officials are no longer buying the DGMF’s argument that the Arjun is a dud; the MoD wants comparative trials too. Minister of State for Defence Production, Rao Inderjit Singh, told Business Standard, “The proof of the pudding will be in comparing the Arjun tank with the T-90 tank, as imported. The T-90 is supposed to be a frontline tank; let it have it out with the Arjun. Let them slug it out in the desert… and see which comes off best.”

Besides demanding more Arjun tanks in the trials, the DGMF is also proposing to conduct the trials differently. Comparative trials are normally a straightforward test of equipment capability, with all the tanks driving through the same course and firing at similar targets to determine which of them does better. But the DGMF now plans to add a tactical --- and therefore subjective --- dimension. The Arjun, the T-72 and the T-90 squadrons will be given operational tasks, e.g. capturing a hill some 150 kilometres away.

The DRDO is crying foul. Major General HM Singh, who spearheaded the Arjun’s development for the last 28 years until he retired a fortnight ago, points out that inserting tactics into the trials would give the army a way of putting down the Arjun. In a tactical exercise the tactical skills of the crew --- something that is irrelevant in evaluating a tank ---can determine the outcome of the trials. Gen HM Singh asks, “What is it that cannot be determined with five tanks, but can be with fourteen?”


  1. if one goes by the facts of the article, it makes one wonder why the army is not accepting the Arjun tank? why are they not coming forward with the comparative trials and what makes them averse to indeginious technology? somehow we tax payers find something fishy going around which cannot be judged from this article or others in the media. We are sure however that a comparative trial would put to rest all speculations.

  2. Just for arguement's sake, is'nt Arjun supposed to belong to a heavier class of tanks than the T-72s and T-90s?

    Isnt it(Arjun) therefore expected to fulfill a certain number of different criteria than the Russian ones?

    Are we going to be satisfied by a horse if it sufficiently performs on par with a donkey?

  3. >>>“What is it that cannot be determined with five tanks, but can be with fourteen?”

    The DRDO backhand job.

  4. Thank you for writing for the nation, for the nations self reliance and self pride.

    You have done a commendable job. Maybe the powers that be listen to the message in your article.
    Bacically it is all about money and corruption in high places. Those who try to pick faults in the Arjun are basically traitors of the nation and on the payrolls of the foreigners /

  5. DGMF is bullshitting Indian taxpayer.... T-90 was not night-fighting capable MBT when it joined IA. Later T-90 was upgrade. Why IA allowed it to evolve without declaring it a dud. When INSAS came in. Army declare it a dud. But instead of getting IAI Tavor. Why they still want a lethal carbine?
    Something which comes from outside is OK anyway. But when same or on-par equipment comes with a prefix 'indigenous' army comments...OH my god!! it's not combat fit. We can't fight with a dud!
    How IN has managed to pull so many war winning solutions from DRDO from which IAF and IA are still to get a JET and a MBT respectively?

    IA just love to play 'Game Rouble' and enjoy 'White Skin'!

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  8. Mr. Shukla, words fail me to describe how deeply the series of 3 investigative articles on the Arjun's "plight", are appreciated by me.

    At a time when it is a norm for every uninitiated and "newbie" journalist to join the "herd" of "DRDO bashers", you chose to 'swim against the tide', and unearthed for the nation, how the jawan is being denied a modern, lethal and safe tank. This investigation is not only an eye-opener for the public (and us "fans" of Arjun), but should also be heard by the Defence minister himself.

    It has been speculated at various defence fora since the past few years, that the Arjun's induction is being 'thwarted' because of deeply rooted corruption, and not due to any Army claims of "low" performance etc. However, under the weight of a totally one-sided and 'prejudiced' media, there was no concrete proof, until your series of reports.

    I may also highlight that DRDO chiefs have given various press releases and interviews since 2003-04, saying that the Arjun has passed the recent-most trials, and is ready for mass production and induction. However, the media -- especially the Indian Express and Tims of India -- never carried those reports, but carried large reports only highlighting the Army's point of view of "poor" performance.

    Of course, I would also criticize your series of investigative journalism partly because the 'high' or motivation for it comes from being against the 'Establishment' --- which is every journalist's "secretly" nurtured feeling. Nevertheless, the impact of this series must be felt by the Defence minister and the Army Chief.

    Now, it remains to be seen whether the Indian Express and ToI will continue to run stories against the Arjun, or whether for journalism's "sake", they will -- for once -- also air DRDO's and the tank driver's part of the story.

    Thank you.

  9. The land battle using tanks is an imaginary one.Blitzkrik and other such jingoisms forget that from our borders it is not possible to go more than 10 km into enemy area without encountering serious water obstables. The DRDO has great successes with the missile program / space program. This scares the world more than buying foriegn tanks. Self reliant india is what the world fears. It is clear that we MUST choose arjun instead of russian tanks due to the fact that there is negligible chance of an armoured battle. Lets focus on insurgent battles , terrorist management and save tax payer money by going for Arjun. The last tank battle was in 1971. No hope of another one anytime soon.lets embrace reality... for a change and be strategic.

  10. I think its prety clear by now..In Indian Army corruption is so rampant...Particularly the nodal Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF) isnt a fool..Perhaps someday we will get to hear that sumone from has been DGMF has been caught with millions of Rupees stashed away in swiss Banks....I think MOD should interfere into this matter asap to save taxpayers money..


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