Finding the right bullies - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 17 June 2008

Finding the right bullies

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th June 08

The unseemly squabbling between the army and the DRDO over the Arjun tank invites a wider debate on how India must shape its mechanised forces. This vital branch of any military launches attacks into an enemy country, its tanks, armoured carriers and airmobile forces sweeping into the opponent’s heartland, dislocating his planning and breaking his will to fight. If it came to war with Pakistan, India’s three “strike corps”, as these mechanised formations are termed, would not dally at the border. Their objective would be the towns and cities along the Indus.

As Lt Gen BM Kapur (Retired), one of India’s more flamboyant strike corps commanders, loved to declare, “My corps has no tasks on the territory of India.”

The key player in these strike operations is the main battle tank --- the MBT in military parlance --- which, for India, is the Russian T-72 and T-90 tank. The “bully of the battlefield”, as the MBT has been called, must be a multi-faceted fellow. It must be highly mobile on roads and cross-country; it must have a capable, computer-enhanced gun to dominate the battlefield; it must be strongly armoured to protect its crew; and it must be self-contained, carrying ammunition and fuel for days of battle deep inside enemy territory.

In the late 20th century India could get by with its Russian fleet. Those tanks were cheap, rugged, effective, and faced simpler threats. Pakistan’s tank fleet was outdated, its air force was not getting additional F-16s from the US and JF-17s from China, and the Dragon himself was a relatively benign blip on the threat radar.

But now India’s tank fleet must cater for a wider range of threats than the Pakistan border, where 58 out of the army’s 59 tank regiments are currently deployed. The entire northeast of the country --- an 11,000-kilometre border with China, Bangladesh and Myanmar is allotted just one regiment of 45 tanks.

Though the Russian T-72s and T-90s are too heavy for the riverine and mountainous northeast, the army has dragged its feet for decades in identifying and procuring a lighter tank. China is flexing its muscles over the so-called Finger Area in North Sikkim, an ideal deployment area for a detachment of Indian light tanks. But the long-standing proposal for acquiring a brigade (three regiments) of light tanks for northeast India is still in the seminar rooms of the army; it has not yet been sent on to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

When asked why, the army’s Director General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF), Lt Gen D Bhardwaj responded with a terse written statement: “The current fleet of tanks in Mech(anised) Forces (sic) is well equipped to execute operations efficiently in all types of terrain i.e. deserts, canal and riverine terrain. We are studying the proposal for a lighter weight tank for other terrains, specifically in the NE (northeast). This of course is a futuristic requirement.”

Light tanks are needed also for India’s amphibious forces, which protect island territories like the Andaman and the Lakshadweep archipelagos and offshore assets like Bombay High. The Hyderabad-based 54 Infantry Division is earmarked for amphibious tasks; the Indian Navy has built landing ships for tanks; it has bought the INS Jalashwa (formerly the USS Trenton) from the United States. But it hasn’t bought the light tanks that will be launched from these ships --- an essential component of any amphibious force.

Light tanks are needed also for airmobile operations. India has one of the world’s very few militaries with strategic airlift capability, its giant IL-76 aircraft able to drop a brigade of paratroopers onto objectives far from India. In November 1988, when Tamil mercenaries invaded the Maldives, two Indian battalions were dropped from IL-76 aircraft to restore peace. They did what was asked but if a parachute force were to encounter serious fighting, they would need tank backup that isn’t there today. The IL-76 can just about carry one Russian MBT, but it cannot para-drop it. A light tank, which could be air-transported and para-dropped, is a critical need.

A light tank is also needed against the growing threat of urban terrorism. Currently, India’s military, police and paramilitary forces use a variety of improvised vehicles, with armour-plates welded on, when they need fire support for operations in towns or cities. Lives would be saved by a light tank which can drive and manoeuvre in twisty streets and elevate its gun to fire at terrorists holed up in higher floors. A cleft turret fitted onto a light tank would give India this capability.

The military’s inertia on the light tank is matched by its foot-dragging over the heavy Arjun MBT. Compared to the 42-ton T-72 and the 46-ton T-90, the muscular 58-ton Arjun is just the right bully for a battlefield where tank killing is an increasingly popular activity. Its Kanchan armour (named after Kanchanbagh, Hyderabad, where it was designed) adds weight; but provides reassuring protection against enemy aircraft, artillery, attack helicopters, tanks, missile carriers and shoulder-fired rocket launchers, all of which are seeking to make their day by destroying a tank.

While the weight of the Arjun would be a liability in the canal-crossed plains of Punjab, it would be transformed into an asset in the open deserts of southern Rajasthan, where one of India’s strike corps invariably operates. Equipping that formation with the Arjun would dramatically increase its punch. Such a decision would also provide the tank’s designers with a clear idea of what strengths they must build into future variations of the Arjun.


  1. nice piece, ajai! do write more about the light tanks venture. what are the light tanks out there that india can consider?

  2. come on ajai. your dgmf bashing has lead to such immature comments even a threat to gentlemans life. and all the writers are the uniniatiated variety who have clue of an afv or its design. you using your inside knowledge selectively to your advantage. the old 4h net is apparent.hms retirement story will make a better story. now that he has not got his third star ask him what took him 28 years to design the arjun with little help from like the SA, thimoty, rajagopalan who are the brains behind the arjun.any wayy the light tank crap sounds like antp at the gun course at placate aroor your next blog culd be the cavalry bar favourite wheeled vs tracked.who makes light tanks in the world. the stryker got its butt kicked in iraq . any way are we going to invade bangla desh. they will knock these light tanks with cheap chinse atgms they have. now coming back to the arjun, remember the vijayanta and its 105 gun what a sweet babe. any clot could hhit the target in three rounds first miss correction and two in the bull. but other than that could we have won a war. thank god shammi metha got the t90 for us as my son would joined the regt on vijanyants and retired waiting for the arjun. the of avadi have messed up the production of the t72. can they meet the arjun demand. best option shift the production to isreal as their tank production lines are with out orders. so please be agood boy.

  3. best option shift the production to isreal as their tank production lines are with out orders

    LOL! Nice one! :D

  4. Hello Tanker this is for you

  5. gentle men i am getting emotional over nothing as i let myself go on chackos site.gas on andon till the cows come home.i only feel sorry for those troopers in those t series tanks made to doubt their equpment and officers. you all are doing a big dis service to the nation with this loose talk. be constructive about your criticism.ask pertinent questions on the afv design parameters etc.

  6. tanker, please educate yourself. the stryker didnt get its butt kicked in iraq - its doing resoundingly well. army veterans from the usarmy want more and more strykers, despite teething issues of A/Cs and internal heat. and light tanks are excellent for firepower backup- check out the sprut, or better still look at indias own history of using the pt-76 in '71. frankly, the t-90 is no better than an upgraded t-72 bm, which after all, was its original designation till the kicking the t-72 got in the gulf war lead to a name change. all in all, if your views are those normally held by folks in the army, no wonder arjun is having a torrid time.

  7. Tankerji,

    It id you who started with both Ajay and Chacko. Then come and ask us to be fair with constructive critisism and all that blah blah.

    The onus is on you to constructively criticise Ajay and Chacko. And I will tell you one thing, both have either military background or have some of the family members in armed forces (in fighting formations). Unlike like you both are gentle men who have calmly stated what they believe in.

    Take lead and show that you some officer like quality in you.

  8. tanker, if you think that raking up the reality is bad for morale, ask yourself this - whats going to happen to a t-72 if a tank round gets inside vs that on an arjun? answer- former, none survive. in the latter, at least some of the crew may walk away. the arjun ammo is kept in packed armoured cylinders, in your beloved t-series its all over the place, man. there are photos on the net of a t-72 brewing up @ the slightest of penetrations. what will it take for you to want better equipment for your own son and those of others? or is the hatred for drdo and anything indian made so much that you will go to absurd lengths to support t series for the sake of ego?

  9. If Arjun is genuinely good, why can't export it and make money. Probably, IA may buy them from those foreign operators.

  10. Good ole tanker,

    T-72 performed awesome in Iraq. Not to mention the doors of t-72 was found 6 feet away in Srilanka. We are sure T-90 will be equaly awesome. not to mention that Vijayantas were treated shodily by the Indian Army. 30 T-90s' were of road as the turret gets hot. Turrets still heat up.

    Arjun was totally based on GSQR's. I can understand people like you writing it. You want a nuclear bomb yet weigh like a grenade.

    The Stryker is prolly the best examplesof a intereme armoured vehicle.

    Bangladesh will be invaded with T-90. Holy crap, use Arjun to negotiate the river beds. PT-76 had trouble negotiating Bangladesh riverines in 1971. Cheap Chinese ATGM's will knock Striker type mobile down? What about T-90 which will be knocked down by cheap Chinese ATGM's? Yo claim T-90S is invulnerable?

    It's open secret now that its people like you which have delayed Arjun tank. Thats why HMS too 28 years to develop it. Why ask HMS?What else could have done with customers like "you."

    Typical Army "Bhaiya."

  11. tanker reflects some classical army attitudes. Ajai Shukla used to demonstrate the same a few years ago.

    tanker-saab, yes most of us here have not travelled 8000 km and fired a thousand rounds in the hot desert sun so we are not competant to comment on certain aspects of tank warfare.

    but also remember that many of us here have our own areas of expertise in areas such as product developemnt and commercialization, organizational change and even mundane things like reliability engineering. So, listen to what many of us have to say, just because we never set foot in Khadakvasla doesnt make us all "bloody civilians" deserving contempt.

    Remember the days of "friendship prices" are gone. It is the dollars we earn for the nation selling our expertise around the world that lets you enjoy the Russian "natasha"'s.

  12. Mr. Tanker i guess you are a X IA officer. At least your comments speaks what you are. Like a typical IA officer its very hard for you to digest civilian comments. Whenever yours/IA's faults are exposed you people uses your typical sentence "How a civilian can know better than we". I will like to mention that one of my uncle is a Lt-Colonel(R.R) and another is a Sqn.Ldr(a jaguar pilot). I don't feel shame to say both of them belongs to two shitty organizations. My grandfather retired as a commodore from IN.Out of three white part of my ti-colour makes me proud. I love IN for everything. My grandfather taught me "A man without vision is like a ship without sail". He told me how Indian navy lived her dream to become a builder navy from a legacy buyer navy.
    IA is known to use this sentence" We sacrificed our today for their tomorrow". Lets do it now. Adopt Arjun. Use it. Provide inputs to developers. Even if you dies riding Arjun. Valuable inputs will be there to fine tune future Arjun . So go for it. Otherwise prepare yourself to face......
    India is waking up. Peoples like you can't hide truths behind those GOI influenced News channels (DD news) anymore. Culprits will be brought to justice doesn't matter whether he is wearing a green fatigue or a formal shirt. So get ready or get fare. Call is yours so is the choice!

  13. Hi Tanker,

    Thanks for the post. Just to place the light tank in context, the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces is actively considering the purchase of three regiments of light tanks.

    Also, HM Singh is not from 4 HORSE. I would imagine someone who's been a tankman would know that.



  14. Some one should shove a bofors gun barrel in tankers ASS....Then only these bastards who survive on kickbacks and waisting our money will understand....
    Look who is talking...he is asking for constructive criticism and he is saying that Arjun took 28 years to develop. Its a fact if u look from one angle only...u should consider the changing req, actual start date etc and so on....India will be better off if worms like u r dead and rotten

  15. tanker: i will be glad when your generation is dead and gone; for yours is a generation of corruption, ineptitude, short-sightedness and dare i say it, traitors.

    the blame lies squarely on you and the army that a civilian such as myself can even *think* that you have betrayed my trust and confidence in you.

  16. Mr. Shukla, it may seem unlikely however if the army has right to reject indigenous equipment, DRDO/civilians may also reject the Army in rescue operations, counter-insurgencies against Naxals, ULFA etc. and employ the services of private security firms and foreign mercenaries.

    The Indian army has proven totally ineffective in ebbing the continuous flow of illegal Bangladeshi migrants in India. The Army jawans are often found to be covertly supporting ULFA and Naga militants. In such circumstances the governments must also have the right to employ foreign mercenaries from France or Israel, instead of Indian soldiers.

    Private security firms in India can also form a consortium to offer trained militia to industrial complexes, government servants and government buildings. In rescue operations the govt. can also hire the service of Blackwater Inc. of USA, which has rendered professional service to the citizens affected by Hurricane Katrina. All these measures will be more effective than a vastly underpaid, stressed and often corrupt Army.

    Thank you.

  17. To the anon above,
    while i agree that with that generation gone there will be changes, but more than corruption the problem is about self-belief, confidence in Indian products and technology.
    The DPSUs and DRDO and even the private sector to some extent have contributed to that. But it will take a titan to leave the burden of history behind and move forward by looking at the present. A titan like Kalam was needed to put behind past failures and induce self-belief in DRDO, it will need another Sam Maneckshaw or Sunderji to induce self-belief in the troops.

  18. Abhiman, and all those who are slamming the Indian Army,

    Don't lose perspective please! Just because some misguided souls have not quite grasped the benefits of indigenisation, and home-designed equipment, doesn't mean that we should talk about hiring Blackwater to do our internal security work.

    Let's remember that the army works everyday in utterly hostile terrain and weather conditions to safeguard a border that NO other army would be able to manage. Let's not forget that some 8000 army jawans have laid down their lives in J&K over the last 18 years; many of them didn't even know where J&K was before they went there for counter insurgency operations.

    To put that in perspective... the US has lost less than half that number in Iraq, and the country has gone into a major introspection. The Pakistan Army, which I would call a resilient and capable fighting force, pressed for a cease-fire with militants after taking one-tenth the casualties that the Indian Army has taken.

    Let's also remember that firms like Blackwater are discredited thugs who have a record of shooting up innocent civilians in Iraq. Blackwater has been investigated by the same US government which has sent them to Iraq to protect the US State Department employees in that country.

    The point I am making is that the Indian Army is a superbly reliable, resilient, competent and brave fighting force. It will --- sooner or later --- become convinced that its long-term benefits lie in indigenising major weapons platforms. It would be foolish, however, to overlook its many pluses just because it is taking its time getting to that point.


  19. Ajai,
    Thank you for being the voice of sanity. I think a lot of people are getting agitated over the issue, quite understandably but they are using a tar brush to paint the whole army as anti-national/indigenous, which is quite wrong.
    The only example i can think of is the hate against GIs after Vietnam.
    Please guys come to senses.
    the guy tanker/whatever he is also extreme in the other side. I am finding that lot of ex-IA ppl to defend their esteemed organization are made to defend the incorrect policies. Please stop tarring the army. Say DGMF or the officer or may be the directorate etc etc. Dont use a tar brush to paint the army for individual wrong doing.

  20. Thats the very problem Ajay. There is a growing disconnect between the different levels of the army, between army officers and the jawans, between the junior officers and the top brass. No one is saying here the Jawans are not doing their job properly but in fact its the inept top leadership thats setting the wrong example here with the all the scams. I say again, the problem is with the top leadership acting like horses with blinders, like dinosaurs refusing to acknowledge change. What motivation would the middle and junior level officers get from such leadership let alone the jawans. If the leadership laments that it has lost its izzat it should ask itself who should be leading by example here the jawans or the top leadership. Is the DGMF who ridicules the Arjun so much, ready to face the Arjun riding in his favourite T-90 while Arjun takes aim at it point blank ? If yes, I would consider the issue settled once and for all. I will be satisfied and so will the Jawans who would actually be using the T90 in combat.

  21. To ajai and others defending the army: please don't think that those of us who are disgruntled with the army are naive. i am proud of our jawans and honor them for the sacrifices they make everyday. But that does not mean that the top brass should not be ridiculed and scorned when they deserve it. they should be ashamed for their anti-india procurement policies and *we* should be ashamed for letting such villains hold office and stay in power.

  22. Harry Says...

    Another pitch for the Arjun! Are you guys on DRDO payrolls, trying to make a bad tank look good? Would it make sense to put our Jawans and officers in inferior tanks? Are we planning on winning the next war?

    About the light tank, what about a up-gunned up-armoured IFV? That's the way the world seems to be heading, not putting Tanks on their streets. Think of the world-wide uproar if Tanks were fielded in Kashmir!


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