DRDO to develop army's next-generation tank - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 8 August 2010

DRDO to develop army's next-generation tank

A line of completed Arjun tanks at the Heavy Vehicle Factor, built for the Indian Army's 75 Armoured Regiment. So far, the army has ordered 248 Arjuns for its 4000-tank fleet

(Concluding part of a 2-article series on the Indian Army’s future armoured vehicles)

by Ajai Shukla
New Delhi

In March 2010, during trials in the Rajasthan desert, the Defence R&D Organisation’s Arjun tank conclusively outperformed the Russian T-90, the army’s showpiece tank. Buoyed by that success and by the army’s consequent order for 124 additional Arjuns, the DRDO is now readying to develop India’s next-generation tank, currently termed the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT).

While costs are still being evaluated, the projections are mind-boggling. The development cost alone of the FMBT could be Rs 5000 crores. Then, the replacement cost of the Indian Army’s 4000 tanks --- at a conservative Rs 25 crores per FMBT --- adds up to Rs 100,000 crores. The bulk of this would flow, over years of production, to Tier-1 and Tier-2 suppliers from small and medium industries.

For the first time the DRDO has outlined the contours of the FMBT project. Talking exclusively to Business Standard, DRDO chief and Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, Dr VK Saraswat, revealed, “While the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) has been handed over to the private industry, the DRDO will develop the FMBT. We need about 7-8 years from the time the project is formally sanctioned. The army and the DRDO have already identified the major features of the FMBT, which are quite different from the Arjun. While the Arjun is a 60-tonne tank, the FMBT will be lighter… about 50 tonnes. It will be a highly mobile tank.”

The FMBT project, admits the military, is crucial for India’s future battle readiness. As army chief, General Deepak Kapoor pronounced 80% of India’s tank fleet unfit to fight at night, which is when most tank battles take place. The bulk of India’s tank fleet, some 2400 obsolescent Russian T-72s, are being shoddily patched up (Business Standard, 3rd Feb 10, “Army to spend billions on outdated T-72 tanks”). More modern T-90 tanks were procured from Russia in 2001, shorn of crucial systems to reduce prices after parliamentary dissent threatened to derail the contract (Business Standard, 4th Feb 10, “Piercing the army’s armour of deception”). Only now, after nine years of stonewalling, has Russia transferred the technology needed to build the T-90 in India.

Urgently in need of capable tanks, the army has worked with the DRDO to finalise a broad range of capabilities for the FMBT. These have been formalised in a document called the Preliminary Specifications Qualitative Requirement (PSQR). The detailed specifications of the FMBT, once finalised, will be listed out in the General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR).

Amongst the capabilities being finalised for the GSQR are: active armour, which will shoot down enemy anti-tank projectiles before they strike the FMBT; extreme mobility, which makes the FMBT much harder to hit; the capability to operate in a nuclear-contaminated battlefield without exposing the crew to radiation; and the networked flow of information to the FMBT, providing full situational awareness to the crew, even when “buttoned down” inside the tank.

Also being finalised is the FMBT’s armament, a key attribute that determines a tank’s battlefield influence. The Arjun already has a heavy 120 millimetre “main gun”, and two small-calibre machine guns; and the recently ordered batch of 124 Arjuns will also fire anti-tank missiles through their main gun. The army wants all of those for the FMBT, with ranges enhanced through technological improvements.

However, the DRDO chief ruled out an electromagnetic gun, the next generation in high-velocity guns towards which armament technology aspires. “The Future MBT is not so far in the future”, Dr Saraswat quipped.

With the FMBT project squarely on its agenda, the DRDO also envisages a major role in developing the FICV. Says the DRDO chief, “The FICV is not just a conventional armoured vehicle for transporting soldiers. It involves advanced technologies and multidisciplinary integration, which private industry has never done. Only the DRDO and the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) have that experience. DRDO teams are already thinking about the technologies that should go into the FICV. But this is only to support private industry in making the FICV project a success.”

While private industry weighs its options about where to manufacture the FICV, the DRDO has already chosen the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF) in Avadi --- the OFB facility that builds the Arjun --- as the FMBT production line.

“It will definitely be produced in HVF. I see no way that we can go away from HVF”, says Dr Saraswat. “The HVF will work with us from the preliminary design of the FMBT so that we can go from prototype to mass production without any hiccups.”


  1. some time back i heard from some one in the defence field that Arjun was only a RAJPAT tank well that person was wrong hope DRDO will get all the support and deliver the goods on time

  2. "DRDO chief Dr. Saraswat: We need about seven-eight years from the time the project is formally sanctioned."

    This is the most important part. Dr. Saraswat, be happy if our Netas and babus sanction the project by 2020 out of red files, as it is not 'benefiting' them anything.

    There was no delay in buying aircrafts for VVIPs but we cannot choice a fighter for the airforce after eight years.

  3. Lets see. How will 60ton Arjun become the 50 ton FMBT?. How can they reduce the 10 ton weight?. The have to make it smaller of course. But how?.

    They need a higher power engine for it to have "ultra mobility", and will they reduce armour to get the weight down? Leaving the tanks defense to "active methods" vs using armour doesnt seem like a good idea. So we basically are going to have a thinly armoured tank, with "active defenses" and having higher power to weight ratio because of lower weight and higher power engine.

    Putting all the eggs in the critical and as yet unproven "active defense" makes me uneasy.

  4. what this tank needs is a main gun that shoots tejas fighters carrying agni missiles on harpoints.

  5. Look like another pie in the sky project to me...20 years from now people will still be discussing DODO....

    Question is, when will there be a quantum technological change on the battlefield and what is being done to make sure india isn#t left behind?

  6. Thanks a lot Sir....
    Words are not enough to thank you for your brilliant coverage of defence related matters.
    I wish We had more people like you....

    Sir, I have one question :

    Can you please tell us about the Army's opinion about MSMC ??

    And What is your personal opinion ?? I assume you must have fired it during your recent visit ??

    Please clarify these doubts...


  7. I hope Army orders for 248 more of Arjun mk1 and then smoothly proceeds towards acquirement of Arjun mk2 and FMBT. Good luck to DRDO.

  8. I am all confused.

    there is an initial order of 124 arjun mark 1.
    DRDO said they are developing mark 2.

    recently there is another order of 124 arjun tanks.
    mark1 or mark2 ?

    if it is not mark 2 - then will there be more order of mark 2, while DRDO develops FMBT ?

  9. Its dumb how our country works. The military is updating outdated T70s spending almost the same amount as a arjun would cost, yet noone wants the arjun being produces in large numbers.

    This FMBT seems like another pipedrea.. 7-8 years of development from the official sanction of the project.. plus another 3-5 years of testing etc.. afterwhich the army will find some excuse to buy the T100 or T200 or even upgrade the T90s.

    Sad state of affairs.

  10. Once bitten twice shy! We do not want a repeat of Arjun any more! A hundred thousand crore is a lot of money to be squandered on DRDO. If we are willing to spend this kind of money we should be the co developers of the M1A3 Abrams with USA. We should share the cost of development. The proto types will be ready in 2014 and the first combat ready units of M1A3 will roll out by 2017. At 6.2 million USD a piece we will have our FMBT in 2014 and not when Mr Saraswat’s grand children retire from DRDO three and half decades later in 2045.

  11. "DRDO chief Dr. Saraswat: We need about seven-eight years from the time the project is formally sanctioned."
    May I ask Dr. Saraswat when was it last time DRDO delivered a weapon sytem to the Indian Defence Forces within 10 years? Going by the law of averages DRDO may complete the project in next 30 years and that is a conservative estimate

  12. The weight reduction can be done with a smaller tank with three crew members. Also the engines can be smaller in size as well as weight. As it's smaller in size, that much space can be reduced overall. If possible put the autoloader, ammunition etc in the turret while the Gunner, Tank commander and the driver is in the hull. The turret is controlled using electronics. This will reduce a lot of weight and will give better protection to the crew. But no compromise should be made with the armour of the hull. It must be like that of Arjun MKII or even better.

  13. what kind of mechanism is used to shoot down enemy projectiles - the active armor you have mentioned ?

  14. PackLeader says...

    Let DRDO prove itself by delivering on-time and to-spec and not indulge in cheap pressure tactics.

    I don't think that will happen, and a lot of people agree with me. Well DRDO, prove us wrong for once!

  15. On a more serious and sensible note, a good stopgap measure would be to invest in leopard 2's given the commonality it would not be too difficult. And get to work on making every arjun component in India. then we can actually imagine the ingredients it would to take to realise this khayali pulao. the 55-60 ton tank is the norm deviating from it would be unproductive. Active kill systems are very lets say untested in mass battle situations. single shot reactive armour is the best choice against new type of threats and those screens do wonders on a HEAT formed jet. Switching to smooth bore would be beneficial. making a bustle based auto loader would be very good. Tanks in the sense as they are being defined right now are based on a more urban policing role rather then armour/armour based combat. It would be foolish to loose sight of what a tank should be a shock weapon. This wepon is more suited to flanking, thrusts and forming bridge heads, what it is not meant to do is sit on a street corner painting a bulls eye on itself.

  16. MPatel aka Buraidiah why arent you playing with your Al Khalid junk? The DRDO's success seems to have got under your skin..

    Mr Ra, well said, we need more MK2 orders to keep the HVF lines buzzing smoothly while the FMBT is ordered..based on Ajai's calculations in the past, we definitely could do with more Arjuns instead of upgrading obsolete T-72s.

  17. They have successfully managed to keep drdo busy on the drawing board and naturally when it comes out initially there will be some hiccups again as is common with all defence hardware.

    Arjun mk1 removed the hiccups so they raised the requirements to create hiccups again. I hope they should push for more arjuns until fmbt comes on the scene

  18. This is not FMBT it is a self propelled howitzer .They want a Arjun fire power on a T-90 chassis.It is going to be maintenance night mare and the tank is not going to be realty.
    But one advantage is it requires a lesser engine which would be nicer for DRDO to design

  19. Dear Ajay,

    In order to prove what Arjun is capable of, we need to have a war with our western neighbour, which is unlikely..

    Like before, some people would have spent their lives devotted to writting about and inventing tanks without actaully firing a shot in actual engagement !

    Now DRDO has taken a cue from the Armoured Corps !

    Please do not mind.

  20. Dear Colonel,

    This what PLA of Cihina has to say:

    "History and reality have shown again and again that a country which does not have a world view is a backward one. A military which lacks global vision is one without hope."

    It further noted:

    The U.S. military buys technology already available on the open market when it can, such as global positioning systems used in the Gulf War, a cheaper and more practical method than trying to develop such equipment itself, the commentary said.



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