Duel in the desert: Comparative trials in March to feature Russian T-90 vs Indian Arjun - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 1 February 2010

Duel in the desert: Comparative trials in March to feature Russian T-90 vs Indian Arjun

The Arjun (pictured here) will be tested in March-April in Rajasthan. The aim of the trial is to identify an operational role for the Arjun

(Part 1 of 3 articles: Indian tanks, or Russian?)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Feb 2010

Next month, India’s homegrown Arjun tank will take on the new Russian T-90 in a long-awaited comparative trial. The outcome could decide whether the Indian Army will ride Indian tanks into future battles or continue its reliance upon a heavily criticized fleet of Russian T-72 tanks, which even the army chief admits is 80% blind at night, when most tank battles occur.

The army’s Bikaner-headquartered 24 Infantry Division will conduct the month-long trials in the desert expanses around Bikaner, Suratgarh and Pokhran. A squadron (14 tanks) of the Arjun will be pitted against a T-90 squadron. Both will be evaluated by day and by night, comparing their abilities to speed through rugged, sand-dune-infested terrain; to fire accurately even while moving; their abilities to operate for long periods over long distances; and the fatigue they impose on their crews.

The declared aim of the comparative trial, surprisingly, is not to identify the better tank. The army claims the T-90 is not on trial; instead, the strengths and weaknesses of the Arjun are being evaluated, to help the army decide what operational role the Arjun could play, and which sector of the border it could effectively operate in.

But the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) --- which has developed the Arjun tank at the Central Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE) at Chennai --- insists that if the Arjun performs well against the vaunted T-90, the army will be forced to order the Indian tank in larger numbers. Arjuns could start replacing the T-72, while the T-90 remains in service for another three decades.

So far the army has only ordered 124 Arjuns for its 4000-tank fleet. An incensed DRDO has long demanded comparative trials against the T-72, and the newer T-90, to prove the Arjun’s quality. Trials were scheduled, and then postponed, because of a shortage of Arjun ammunition. With the ammunition now available the army, significantly, has withdrawn the T-72 from the trials.

“The army knows that the T-72 would have performed very poorly in trials against the Arjun”, complains a senior DRDO officer. “Despite that, the army continues to sink money into its 2400 outdated T-72s. Any comparative trial with the T-72 would make it clear that the Arjun should replace the T-72.”

But there is also concern about the subjectivity of trials involving an entire squadron in tactical maneouvres. Major General HM Singh (retired), the father of the Arjun, says, “It is impossible to measure the tactical performance of 14 tanks. There are too many variables, including the skill of the tank crews and coloured perceptions of the judges. A comparative trial should be a scientific comparison of each tanks’ physical performance in identical situations.”

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has not responded to an emailed questionnaire from Business Standard on the comparative trials and the condition of the T-72 tank fleet.

Meanwhile, the Arjun is ready for production in larger numbers, with a production line at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) near Chennai established at a cost of Rs 50 crores. Capable of producing 20 Arjuns annually, it has already equipped India’s first Arjun unit, 43 Armoured Regiment. Now, a second unit, 75 Armoured Regiment, is being converted to the Arjun.

But that is as far as the army is prepared to accept the Arjun. According to the army’s long-term plan, which Business Standard has accessed, no more Arjuns are planned. Instead, the army will field equal numbers of T-90s and T-72s for the next 15 years, spending thousands of crores on extending the life of the T-72.

But these trials, despite the reservations about their relevance, are the moment of truth for the Indian tank. A strong performance by the Arjun will force the army to redo its maths. Conspicuous failure, on the other hand, could cap the programme at just 124 tanks.

(Next, Part II: Refurbishing the T-72; trying to breathe life into a bullock cart)


  1. Great reading!
    It has always been a mystery to me as to why the IA is so opposed to the Arjun (allegation of missing kick-backs aside). What tactical/strategic reason do they give?
    A discussion on that would be enlightening.

  2. Dear Ajai,

    Thanks for kicking off this series & spreading awareness about the IA's ridiculous stance against the Arjun. Could you shed some light on the "per unit" cost of the T-72 upgrade, so that one can see if there is some/any justification in sinking more money into these upgrades? I couldnt find anything in the open source

    Prem Kumar

  3. I can't even begin to describe how angry this makes me.

    Why will the army now include the T-72 in trials against the Arjun? Why only T-90? Why not have all the 3 tanks perform the same maneuvers side by side? This just raises a 1000 different questions and it really makes me doubt the conscience of the people in charge of the army and the reasons they have for not doing such a test.

    This is absolutely disgraceful on the army's part. If they have nothign to hide then why not let the Arjun be tested. I say, if Arjun is ineffcient and is not able to under-par compared to the T-72 then DON'T EVEN INCLUDE THE ARJUN IN THE ARMY. Lets close the chapter and the book on this problem once and for all. But, why is the army playing such games.

    And, where are the bloody politicians? The whole country has a vested interest in the arjun the people who work at those plants have their livilihood dependendent on it. Why is the Indian army doing this non-sense?

  4. strong performance by arjun? not at all! the army will not allow it.

    if army wants good tank than why russian junks? why they don't buy western tanks?

    arjun may have some problem but t-90 is and t-72 are the worst tanks in the world. recent russia-Georgia war have shown that.

  5. How much should we offer DGMF so they actually buy the right thing instead of lining their pockets and paying for condos abroad for their kids??? I have nothing against the T-90, but such dereliction of a possibly valuable weapon should be treated as treason. Hopefully AK will resign and let someone with more spine take over and push development of local capability instead of international housing and perks for the corrupt turdhats running our Mechanised Unit capabilities into the ground.

  6. I dont understand why doesn't the Indian Media bring this story in open again and again to pressure the GOI.....As per me the field trials evaluation and results must be open to Indian media.....

  7. Is the HVF's production capacity only 20 units annually?? At this rate it'l taks 50 years to build 1000 arjuns.

  8. Dear Ajay,
    The funniest thing i don't understand is the army keeps talking about looking 20-30 years in the future but still opts for a T-90 and T72 which itself is already more then a dacade old? it would actually make more sense to upgrade the Arjun tank then update obselete tanks i guess they rather spent thousands of crores in buying then spending half of it in our own product.

  9. "Refurbishing the T-72; trying to breathe life into a bullock cart"


  10. Tanks and guns are beyond us mortals, the army has its own unique views, for what its worth the Indian Army with its huge force of infamous T-72s(infamous for the western designation of monkey tank from two wars in Iraq) and its upgraded version the T-90 is the most logistically speaking competent (if that is the correct word to be used here) arm of the armed forces.

    Meanwhile our neighbor to the west keeps on upgrading its tanks and inducting new ones with all the tech it can beg, borrow, or steal.

  11. Even before the trail started the DRDO starting the whisper campaign, why is this defeated mentality??

    The army knows that the T-72 would have performed very poorly in trials against the Arjun”, complains a senior DRDO officer.

    What???DRDO officer complains, their Arjun joke should be judged against 1960's sample??? Heloo this is 21010!!! Your Whining indicate that you know very well T-90, itself a repackaged T-72, will trash the Arjun.
    What else you got

    But there is also concern about the subjectivity of trials

    Hmm...this is interesting. You guys are setting yourself up. If the result is not to your likings, it all coz of dishonest Army officers.

    the father of the Arjun, says, “It is impossible to measure the tactical performance of 14 tanks. There are too many variables, including the skill of the tank crews and coloured perceptions of the judges

    Well played Sir, You know army officers are color blind, so why put Arjun to their judgment. Declare Arjun successful by "scientific" measurement and be DONE with it.

    But these trials, despite the reservations about their relevance, are the moment of truth for the Indian tank

  12. Meanwhile, the Arjun is ready for production in larger numbers, with a production line at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) near Chennai established at a cost of Rs 50 crores. Capable of producing 20 Arjuns annually,........




  13. People,
    Kindly remember the biggest enemy for IA is not PA but the gov & babu's in Delhi.

    The moment IA says it is happy with Arjun, the babus will stop the T-90 induction and IA will left with only ONE factory producing at the most 50 Arjuns a year.

    This means IA would be faced with a mammoth task of re-training it's armour from T-90/T-72 to Arjun.

    Imagine the effect it wil have on IA armour.It does not matter if Arjun's can shoot laser beam or we could produce better than M1A2.

    If there is a war tom what will IA do? It's armour programe is already a mess. They would not want to shoot themselves in their leg do they?

    Hence in this fight, strangely enough both IA & DRDO are right in their own ways. IA is right in operational sense and DRDO is right in technological sense.

    Both doing the job they know about! The mess is due to the fact that like anything else we are horrible in long term planning & implementation.


  14. I don't think even march comparative trials will able to end this controversy.., Because if Arjun prove it self batter compare to T-90s than it will prove IA's top generals wrong and matter will be kept under wraps of secrecy to protect them. And if Arjun fails than it will be disaster for DRDO - INDIAN GOVT which will be very shameful thing for both. In both situation there will be attempt to keep march comparative trials result under wraps of secrecy.

  15. Everyone missing one point here... ARJUN developed as a MBT and there is no point to compare it with T-72 which is not a MBT of Indian army now. T-72 entered production in 1971 and how can we expect it to defeat modern era Arjun? Comparing Arjun with T-90s is fair because now Army's MBT is T-90s and taken Arjun's place as MBT of Indian Army.

  16. Seeing Israel is now one of the biggest defence suppliers to India, I am surprised that India never opted to manufacture and perhaps modify the Merkava IV in India.It is a multi-purpose tank suited to rocky/desert conditions and urban warfare and can also be used as a medivac vehicle.Electronics, firepower and design are unparalled and slight modifications would have seen it ideal for Indian conditions as it can withstand desert temperatures.The fact Pakistan now has an edge over India in tanks and infantry weaponry should be warning enough not to take T-72s at the battle front but use may be on the eastern front as a backup.

  17. Gawwwd, how I wish the US donated a couple of Abrams regiments to the pukes.

  18. Anything less than inducting 1000 Arjuns and replacing the T-72 is treason and corruption

  19. the army doesn't opt for the arjun cuz tere r a lot more factors involved like-
    1. the logistics of the IA are for Russia tanks and not western style tanks lyk arjun.
    2. the problem of replacement of parts modification and ammunition can be handled better by d russians

  20. I can't understand why Indian defence correspondents never criticize the one major flaw in Indian defence procurements -- multiple types of every weapon system.

    Jesus, why can't we have informed public debate on how taxpayer money is spent? It costs millions more to maintain multiple types of the same class of weapons and in wartime it will be a logistics nightmare. Imagine the army carting two types of ammo for two different tanks!

    I am sick reading this v/s that debates. The people doing the IA, IN and IAF procurements, first need a mental trial.

  21. They can increase the production rate facility only if IA orders more Arjun tanks. In the past, why would they have setup a bigger production facility for mere 124 tanks? Now if the order reaches 1000 they will definitely have higher production rate. So calculation time to produce 1000 tanks based on CURRENT production rate is DECEPTION.

  22. Ajai Sir

    First thing apart from my querries earlier put up, I m expressing my views
    1. Its not good to have 2 MBTs in a army, we have 3 MBTs.

    2. T-72s have been in service close to 3 decades. why they caloled bullock carts now, when in the top 10 tanks its placed on no.3

    3. India does not have design blue prints of T-90s. that they will become bullock carts even faster.

  23. Hi Ajai,

    In July 2008, you had this to say about the Arjun: "These 70 tanks have taken less than two years to manufacture... the Arjun production line is already very close to producing its installed capacity of 50 tanks a year."

    Now this article reports that Avadhi is capable of producing only 20 Arjuns annually. Could you elaborate?


  24. if arjun do great it will never be revealed.!

    i cannot understand one question if IA dont want arjun because it wants a futuristic tank than how they are going for russian junk named t-90? why don't buy Leopard2A6?

  25. Do we have any firm other than DRDO who produces any defense material ?
    LCA is a big delay because we do not have good people to design it. What it looks like a peach of junk. Do we have any good aeronautical colleges in INDIA ? why INDIAN Engineers are worst than other Engineers, when we talk about defense products ? WHY WHY WHY ?

  26. Avadi Factory has capable to produce 400 tanks per year , but upto know they have not manufactured like this , atleast 100 nos per year should be made in Arjun.

  27. Why don't DRDO sell their tanks to foreign armies and make their point that to IA that Arjun can even compete with world class tanks and can win competition hands down.

    What happened to Columbia's RFP for Arjun?.

    There is no point burning our tax payers money on buying foreign junk. The priority is to generate Hi Tech Manufacturing infrastructure, R&D competencies in our country like china has done.

    Also at the same time we have to accept the fact that our public sector enterprises run by corrupt bureaucrats with political intervention is not in a position to deliver.

    We should allow Private Sector to come into defense Manufacturing and also allow 100% FDI for billion dollar defense start ups. Also also these companies a free hand in exports.

    In China the Industry grows when the Govt is awake, In India the Industry can grow only if the Govt Sleeps.

    the only industry that we had been successful off late is the IT Services Sector, That is because there was no Govt Intervention because of the 10-15 yr tax holidays that industry was enjoying.

    We can replicate the same model to Defense manufacturing too. We have ample qualified manpower and there is no reason why we cannot over take China in this sector. Also 100% FDI in defense sector is better than 70% of our money being spent of Imported arms, enriching Russian and Italian arms dealers.


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