A plan for the Arjun! - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 6 February 2010

A plan for the Arjun!

Just a few clarifications to put my recent three-article series on Indian tanks in context.

1. I think that the conclusion that some visitors are drawing --- that everything Russian is bad --- amounts to overreaction to my articles. As one critic of the articles correctly posted, Russia has provided us systems that nobody else was willing to provide at prices that nobody else could match. Even if that was in the past, and Russia today adopts a far more hard-nosed, where-are-the-dollars approach towards arms sales to India, one would be ill-advised to forget history.

For example, one visitor posted about my article: “Did you read the parts that establish that the T-90 is at worst a piece of junk, or at best as good/bad as the obsolete T-72?” Well, I’d just point out that you are reading more into my account of the T-90 deal than I actually said. I certainly said that the deal was tailored to bypass parliamentary opposition, India ended up getting an under-equipped T-90 tank, important tank systems failed because they could not withstand exposure to the Indian environment, there were problems in transferring technology, and we have not yet managed to get the tank upgraded to the level that it should have been acquired in.

All that is true, yes! But also remember that, compared to the T-72, the T-90 is a much better tank. And, whether you like it or not, the T-90 will be in service with the Indian Army till at least 2040, maybe even 2050.

2. I also think that anyone who argues: scrap all Russian equipment and go Indian is fantasizing. Russian equipment is still the mainstay of our mechanised forces and, even if we adopt a conscious policy of Indianisation, it will be decades before Russian equipment serves out its life. Since we have to live with Russian systems for a long, long time, we need to identify which tanks we could phase out first, in what time frame we could retire them, and what we can upgrade and retain in service for a longer period.

3. A crucial step, in my opinion, will have to be doubling the rate of retirement of the obsolescent T-72s. One replacement stream is the T-90, being produced at the HVF, Avadi. A second stream of Arjuns must supplement this, for which the following broad process must begin:

(a) Increase Arjun tank production on an expanded assembly line, at the rate of 30, 40, and then 50 tanks per year in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. Task CVRDE to ready the Arjun Mark II by 2013. By 2015 the Arjun production line at HVF MUST roll out 62 Arjun Mark II tanks per year (i.e. one regiment at full scale, including reserve tanks). By 2018, the Arjun Mark III must roll out. Each of these upgrades must have limited and realistic improvements, identified not from glossy magazines but through operational usage by Indian Army regiments.

(b) Alongside the Arjun Improvement Programme (AIP), which will handle the upgrade to Mark II and Mark III standards, work must commence by 2012 on the Future MBT programme. Two consortiums must compete in creating the design: a CVRDE-led consortium that can draw on the Arjun experience. And a private industry-led consortium, which is granted full access to the Arjun design experience, as well as to any other resources that they choose. The private industry consortium must be fully funded by the MoD, their budget in line with what the CVRDE-led consortium is permitted to spend.

(c) As Arjun tanks roll out, T-72M regiments must convert to the Arjun, those with older tanks first. The conversion will serve a two-fold purpose: firstly, the T-72 regiments that first convert to Arjuns, i.e. 4-5 regiments by 2015, need not be upgraded with TIFCS, etc. Secondly, the introduction of Arjuns into service, and the setting up of Arjun instructional cells at the Armoured Corps Centre & School, Ahmednagar, will start spreading an Arjun culture into an army where the opposition to the Arjun is based on an outdated impression of the tank --- on what it was, rather than what it is.

(d) The remaining T-72s need to be upgraded on priority. The ten-year-old process to upgrade them needs to be pushed through, if necessary by a high-voltage, public resignation by whoever the DGMF happens to be. By doing so, that officer will have done more for his arm than any of his recent predecessors; and will be remembered for much more than just “being a good chap”.

(e) By 2015, the DRDO, in collaboration with private industry, must produce and operationalise an Arjun Bridge Layer Tank (BLTs), an Arjun Trawl Tank, and the specialised maintenance vehicles that will be provided to each Arjun regiment. Production lines must cater for adequate scales of these.

(f) The process needs to be set in motion now for creating two Arjun overhaul facilities in the private sector. The first fifteen Arjuns will soon be due for overhaul and the HVF has proved unable to even handle the T-72 overhaul. Just as an RFI has been floated for creating T-72 overhaul facilities, the Arjun overhaul facilities must be kicked off immediately.


  1. Yes, russia consider to be good supporter to indian defense . Indigenous production for india is must with JV from abroad or indian private concerns.

    Ajai , i wish your next post should cover Longer range Bombers of india ( + & - and need of bombers(against based on china) for Land attack / Naval warship attack .

  2. finally some clarity ajai ji a lot of people read things into your articles, yes i totally agree with what you have said. The russians are a long term allay in more areas than one. But the old days are truly gone and only the colour of money talks now. India needs to be forthright in its appraisal of its military hardware solutions. Dreaming up things does not make it so (this is for all the humbugs who read this blog and then post comments saying that we should go for an all or none approach) moderation in thin king will help. Yes agreed but tanks have a very long life and can serve multiple roles ala-vijyanta to catapult.

  3. u r confusing readers ajai.......

    and else...it's just ur perception.
    it Depends on MoD that whether they wanna tackle china in better way than T90's.......it is still a question.

  4. Friendly Russian6 February 2010 at 04:53

    hey ajai, not just in the past... like it or not thanks to the russians the atv is launched today. the russians were also responsible for consultation for the indegenous ACC being built in Kochi apart from Fincantieri SpA. who knows what else they are doing behind the scenes, whether in missiles or UAVS. and i feel if india wants something she should pay for it, for india has money while russians have expertise. but on crappy defence stuff like the T90 (even crappy as far as our army is concerned), your corrupt defence officials are to blame. i really feel the arjun should be given a chance for i feel it is a great battle machine with great potential. jai hind! :=)

  5. Rarely you find oneself agreeing to what someone says, so many times.

    A plan for arjun must be there indeed.

    But One question ajai ji, if we opt for so many russian systems with (marked) improvements, with just a change in name, what makes army demand a future MBT from grounds up. Why not progressively agree to marked improvements in Arjun itself??

    Where this attitude of scrapping what we have now and building from scratch comes up?

  6. Hi ajay, nice article, I do hope everyone concerned starts seeing arjun for what it really is:) I have a few questions- firstly I heard that arjun was evaluated by merkava and many tips to improve its performance were provided, are these improvements being made to the tanks which are expected next month? Do those improvements call for major modifications in the tank? And I heard that the army has no team as such to help design tanks.. Is it true, if so why?

  7. Then what about the negative publicity Arjun all these years? Are you of the opinion its a false propaganda by vested interests? one day a news column appears stating that Arjun is a piece of junk! next day another column appears army is happy with Arjun!!! Is Army really happy with it? Have all the problems have been sorted out!!! i saw the interiors of Arjun in chindits blog.all seems to be worn out i did see some russian language written on one of the instruments!!! i am happy that you have taken courage to bring the disparity or shortcomings in the russian made tanks and supporting the Arjun program whole heartedly.
    thanks!!! let us wait and watch!!!
    Hope your blog will be read by MOD honchos!!!!

  8. Ajay Sir,
    I wish you could be appointed as HEAD of Arjun program. This is a very good planning by you. Your vision is very nice and also you have futuristic view. Basically you are a soldier, so you have better understanding that all of us.
    Well add one of more of my suggestion. There should be a competition organized and funded by MOD for INDIAN student ( any stream, even for students on Arts stream) for future weapons and control system. Believe me we will get very good designs and brain from it

  9. This might sound far fetched, but why doesnt the CVRDE tie up with Russian firms themselves to co-design, and co-produce Arjun MK-II . If "Russian made" is what the Mechanised wants, then they should be pretty happy with that arrangement. CVRDE can use whatever leverage the Russians have in marketing and pushing the tank through the decision making process.

  10. Ajai, Can you please answer only one questions?

    Why the Army inducting 1600 T-90 while the Arjun stood at only 124? We know that Arjun s better than T90, atleast on paper and as per comments from the people who knows both tanks.

  11. Its good to see you try to end some of less informed peoples bluffing. Problem with some peopels here is that they jump to conclusion without waiting for right time.


    >India ended up getting an under-equipped T-90 tank.

    >Doubling the rate of retirement of the obsolescent T-72s.

    >Increase Arjun tank production on an expanded assembly line.

    >The remaining T-72s need to be upgraded on priority.

  12. Col. Shukla, it is very well known that the T-90 is a "much better" tank than T-72.

    But the question is this :-

    Why was the T-90 -- with all it's technical faults -- acquired, when Arjun, which is a much better tank was already available ? Granted that in the earlier part of this decade, Arjun too had the problems like TI sights, overheating equipment etc. ... ..... but wasn't the T-90 afflicted with them too ? So what made the Army bypass the Arjun for the T-90 ?

    And most importantly, what is making the Army to still clamour for T-90s, even though it hasn't yet resolved it's problems, whereas the Arjun has ? Vested interests ?

  13. Good Article!!
    Now to Reality!! T-90 will stay.

    Let's imagine that I'm a high level planner at army. I will have a natural fear that in future there is a failure. One is on T90 and other is on Arjun. Both a equally catastrophic and needs a quick, good solution.
    For T90, I can go straight to Russians, and ask them for solutions for the problem. They cannot escape the responsibility to solve as there is future sales at stake and most of the system are designed by themselves and not purchased.

    CVRDE has not such responsibilities. Due to policy change, if CVRDE looses it engineers and designers to private companies, there will be no one to fix issues. and I need not tell about the past performance.

    as a planner I need robust, proven machine. we all know that reliability of the machines we operate for a long time. This is not the case for Arjun. I do not know the reliability of that machine yet (MTBF, MTTF etc).

    so, to prevent any major disaster during a war, I will stick with t-90 than arjun.

    However, to gain experience I will include arjuns and will see if it is worth trying.

    it is definitely not cheaper than any other tank and has transportation issues as it is wider than the normal rail cars that currently transport the other tanks.

  14. Historically, association with Russia has always been more fruitful than with any other country.

    The Gorskhov deal, the problems with the T-90 are MORE OF OUR FAULT THAN THEIRS. The shameful greed of our officials was big enough for them forsake their country and draft agreements that would jeorpardize our country's safety. WE ARE TO BLAME FOR THIS NOT THE RUSSIANS. They have every right to push their product in which ever way the can and we have a duty to make deligent decisions in regard to our purchases.
    As a person who has lived in Moscow, Russia 10 years back and been to other western countries.I can tell you Russian's have much more respect and understanding of us than any other country.

    More than anything else, any agreement with Russia doesn't come with the burden of EULA, CISMOA fear of embedded codes, prone to sanctions and all that western crap that US and other countries throw at us.

    Russia is and will continue to be our foremost ally in this world Unless, we are stupid enough in our new found American arrogance to jeopardize that relationship.

  15. Hey Ajai,

    I think your timelines are unrealistic. What we see with our Defence PSUs is that, if they really concentrate and put in a lot of effort, they can just about manage to pull off 1-2 projects in time... Case in point is the relatively "fast" progress on the LCH.

    Now you're asking them to have a pipelined approach and be super efficient for the next 10 years and do this consistently across 5-10 projects. Not going to happen. Good managers are in short supply, anywhere.

    I guess we need a defense research Tzar, someone who can manage all defense production and procurement, someone we can hold accountable, and who can speak coherently on the policy. The Indian way of doing things through bureaucracy, with no single person accountable, needs to change.

  16. Gorshkov is India's fault?

    You gotta be kidding me.

  17. An excellent overall coverage Sir!

    Why doesn't someone point these things out to the MoD?

  18. I will defnitely agree the 'russian argument' but untill unless we see the point that technology is ever changing and pouring money to buy the latest technology leads us no where.
    We have to get out of this cycle of importing and again importing and again ......instead give the people in the country a chance.....sure the product will not be state of the art on the first day but it would definitely improve over time.

    Comeon yaar....people spend 40 crores (US $10 million) on making an average Bollywood film.......why doesn't the government spend atleast $1million on providing oppurtunities to young researchers.....setup a Grant that helps people to start working on their ideas.
    You can think it as venture captilism.....but that 1 million us$ will at least sponsor 400 new ideas every year.

  19. Ajai,

    I wonder if my question will be visible to you in this sea of comments.

    Are the next batch of T-90s coming from Russia be the T-90M version?

    The Russians have upgraded the T-90S with larger turret and more bells & whistles.

    Add this there were some comments floating on the net that some of local T-90's will have Kanchan armour.

    How true is that? Did Russia's objection to transfer know how of armour tech forced us to consider Kanchan for T-90 , maybe?



  20. Lo karli baat....

    Besides the talks on the aircraft, the military-technical team accompanying Mr. Sobyanin will hold discussions on more T-90 tanks, the naval version of MiG-29, Sukhoi-30 MKI and the multi-role transport aircraft project, said the sources.


  21. Thanks for an insightful and thought provoking article. But people who matter namely the MOD and the decision makers in the Army, are they in the loop to even understand the ramifications of your article? I doubt it very much.

    Nothwithstanding the numerous pro and against comments about the tanks in question, more coverage should be given to indegenous attempts to make India self-sufficient for is military hardware.

    Most of the public sector companies are under performing and some such as GTRE have become more of a liability than an asset to the country.

    GOI and MOD should encourage and finance private enterproses (navaratna designated ones) to get involved in R&D as well as the actual manufacture of successful items.

    Your suggestion that the private sector should be involved in the overhaul of tanks is really noteworthy. It would be prudent to do this asap as the govt. owned ones are not in a position to meet the demand.

    I wonder how many decision makers in the GOI are even aware of the points that you have numerated in your articles.

    Keep up the good work. India needs more committed ex-Army officers to expose the cancer that is on a rampage because of ego, corruption and sheer lethargy to be proactive.

  22. thanx

    Ajai Sir for accepting or coroborating most of the things I said

    lets recap


    1. Shut T-90s production line after 1200

    2. Use the money that was to be used for the remaining 457 to acquire Shtora active protection system and the T-90’s thermal imaging (TI) sights.

    3. Indegenously develop a variant of the INVAR missles.


    1. Expand production line to 1200.

    2. Find ways to reduce Arjun Mk-2 weight below 50.

    3. Enhance its night fighting ability with indegenous TI systems.


    1. Sell 500 of them to Afganistan.

    2. Put 1000 refurbished ones in reserve


    1. Establish a new tank production line, preferably with pvt co.

    2. Establish atleast 4 more refurbish and repair falities for tanks , infantry vehicles across India

    I will like to make some new additions to these.

    1. Work on Future MBT should start keeping in mind +/- of T-72s, T-90s and Arjuns.

    2. US is moving out of Afganistan, India needs to fill the void, and 500 T-72s will be more than enough for us to solidify our relationship, if we exclude training the Afgan Army.

    3. There is urgent need to develop indegenous ammo. for our tanks, esp. the fuse.

    4. Refurbishing should be left to a dedicated concern.

    5. Hope that follow on RFIs, RFQs, RFPs for armoured vehicles are speeded up.

  23. Nice theory on the Arjun.

    But it aint gonna happen. Dream on!!

  24. Ajai, Though few points are worth considering in your article, It seems to be influenced by US-MIC propaganda against Russian ARMS.
    But I accept your theory for more indigenization of production of security related appliances. But Track record of Govt. financed Indian R&D operations has been abysmally miserable. We don't need external enemies to undermine our security. Our own fools - DRDO, ARL etc are enough. You writing on such matters would make more sense.

    Regarding case of ARJUN, we must push it in the field in peace time to increase the trustworthiness of it's operations and at the same time focus more on making at least its production 100% indigenous even under licensed production.

    By 100% indigenous production, I mean producing all crucial parts - along with machinery required to produce those parts - in India. For example, Just by getting metallurgical composition of armor metal we cant indigenize it, we must know how to produce (process part of it) it. And extent of our capabilities in R&D are evident from recent statement of Russian official about India's participation limitations in PAK-FA/FPGA design & production.

  25. It is not about country of origin. It is about replacing all inadequate T-72s with Arjun. Keep T-90s if you must but all T-72s must be replaced with Arjuns.

    There is no need to be apologetic. If they did favours then so did we by sustaining them through their difficult 90s.

  26. wow!thats all I can say,but the most difficult part would be getting this whole thing going!

  27. Sir..
    I had a chat from an Indian Army Officer, who is currently in service with the Armoured Core....
    He says that Arjun for one, is heavy and has problems functioning in the desert...
    Secondly, it does not fit into the current infrastructure of the Indian Army..
    As there is an utter confusion about the credibility of the Arjun Tank, I would be extremely thankful if you could please throw some light on this....
    Also, How does T-90 tank fare against the Pakistan's Al-Khalid....


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