Part II: Army’s delayed orders halts T-90 tank - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 28 November 2011

Part II: Army’s delayed orders halts T-90 tank

Views of the T-90S production line at the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF), Avadi. The HVF is looking for an army order for 700 more T-90S tanks.

By Ajai Shukla
Avadi, Chennai
Business Standard, 29th Nov 11

If India has a capital for battle tanks, it is the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF) at Avadi, outside Chennai. This flagship factory of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) produces all of India’s main battle tanks: the Arjun; the T-90S; and before that the T-72 and the Vijayanta. Of the OFB’s total turnover last year of Rs 11,300 crore, HVF alone generated Rs 2,500 crore.

But when Business Standard visited HVF last week, the buzz of production work on the shop floors that build the Indian Army’s T-90S tank was drawing to a close. Of the one thousand T-90S tanks that the army plans to build in HVF --- and has already paid Russia licence fees for --- HVF has received an indent for just 300 tanks. With that order likely to be completed by mid-2013, and with no follow-on order in sight, the T-90 line will grind to a halt.

As this newspaper reported yesterday (“Technology transfer, supply of assemblies hit Russian stonewall”) Russia’s non-compliance with the contract for technology transfer ensured that indigenous production of the T-90S was delayed for 6 years after the contract was signed in January 2001. Now, 11 years after the contract was signed, production is hitting its stride. HVF says 24 tanks were delivered in 2009-10; 51 in 2010-11; it will be 50 this year; and annual production will hit 100 next year (i.e. 2012-13). But there are no army orders beyond that.

Despite that, the MoD has sanctioned expanding the capacity of the T-90S line to 140 tanks per year, says the OFB.

“We are in touch with Army HQ and MoD for the follow-on order of T-90S tanks. The lead-time for positioning of materials and components is about 30 months… that’s how long it takes for ordering, getting the material, manufacturing and assembly and delivery. We are progressing the case with the Vice Chief of Army Staff… and have requested the MoD to pursue the matter,” says RK Jain, Addition DG of the OFB, who oversees HVF.

The army has apparently held back its indent until it is sure that the T-90S tanks already built by HVF are free of production glitches.

“The army wants indigenous T-90s to be observed and user confidence built up [before placing a fresh indent]. So far, the users have run only the first batch of 24 tanks, delivered in 2009-10, to the extent where they can properly evaluate their performance. The 51 tanks that we delivered in 2010-11 have yet to be adequately exploited,” explains Jain.

It is evident that piecemeal ordering is blocking potential economies of scale. MoS for Defence, Rao Inderjit Singh, told the Lok Sabha on 30th Nov 06 that the T-90S tanks that came ready-built from Russia cost Rs 11 crore each; and the knocked down tanks from Russia that were assembled in Avadi cost Rs 12 crore each. But the tanks built in Avadi now cost Rs 18.1 crore, says the OFB.

Asked how much this price could be whittled down through timely bulk orders from the army, HVF officials estimate a potential cost saving of 25-30%. Spurning this opportunity would result in the army paying Rs 3,800 crore more than is necessary for the remaining 700 T-90Ss that HVF will build.

The MoD has not responded to an emailed query from Business Standard, asking why a supplementary indent for more T-90S tanks had not yet been placed on HVF.

A range of facilities feed into HVF’s T-90S production line. Two OFB factories in Kanpur build the gun and breach block. Another in Jabalpur builds the recoil system, while another one in Tiruchiralapplli fabricates the 12.7 millimetre air defence gun. The sophisticated thermal imaging sights and gunner’s sights come from OFB’s Opto-Electronics Factory in Dehradun. The gun stabilizer, which allows the tank to fire accurately while moving, comes from Bharat Electronics Ltd.

Within Avadi, HVF builds major components of the T-90S: the hull, turret, transmission, gearbox and the running gear. Another OFB facility next door, Engine Factory, Avadi, builds the tank’s 1000 HP engine. Thousands of minor parts are outsourced to local industry: electrical items, cables, starter generator, instrument panel, hardware and rubber components. According to OFB’s Jain, the T-90S has been 70% indigenised; this will increase to 80% next year.

Bringing together all this parts takes 30 months. Then HVF assembles them into a tank.

Piecemeal indenting by the military routinely causes production breaks in India’s defence industrial complex, including its defence shipyards and public sector behemoths like Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL). Senior officials in these defence companies that that jerky indenting hinders the smooth planning of production cycles, economic utilization of skilled manpower, and the provision of lead times needed for out-sourcing materials and assemblies from external vendors.


  1. Dear Ajay Sir,
    Piecemeal ordering by Army seems to be correct method, as first of all locally manufactured T90 must be proved & gain user's reliability. Army is not supposed to compromise on its combat capabilities. A better competitor of T90 is Arjun, in which Russia can't armtwist us. Why Army shall bother about an unreliable project sourced from unreliable country. We do not want to take risk of making entire Indian tank fleet ineffective. Arjun is indeed safe bet. OFB shall try to incorporate some of Arjun technology and create a blend of russian indian tank in form of T90

  2. My opinion is that we must not go for more T-90's but convert the T-90 production floor to make Arjun MBT's. Mass production of the Mark-II variant in the range of around 2000 or so tanks will bring down the cost of tank to that of T-90's. We must be in a position to produce 200 tanks/year. So it's very beneficial for the Indian Army to go for this variant that can win wars for the nation rather than showpiece T-90's.

  3. Dear Mr. Shukla

    Most of the problems mentioned by you in this post are the result of lack of superior management, quality control systems and systems engineering ability.

    CMM and CMMI are some of the models which are used in US to overcome similar problems.

    In fact, its our lack of systems engineering ability which is affecting our major projects, and not individual talent or will.

    It would be great, if you can cover these topics someday in your work.

  4. Great writeup sir...Bit of a spell-check autoformat kicking in... should reach 'breech block' of 'breach block' ?

  5. The factory looks so filthy...

  6. Sir, very good articles over last few days starting with the Arjun MK2. I would be very thankful if you can spare some time to answer my queries.

    1) All production run (in any industry) will have rejections during product manufacture. What is the rejection rate of the Arjun & T-90 made by the HVF, Avadi?

    Or simplifying it to the context - how many T-90s (& Arjun MK1) were manufactured by the HVF and how many of these tanks were cleared by Indian Army's QC department, to be finally inducted. i.e out of X tanks produced, only Y will be inducted as there will be Z number of rejections. Y=X-Z.

    2) I couldn't find a single Indian Journo who have the required access to know the volume of the tank. T-90s volume is already there on the internet.

    Since you are a person with knowledge and good access to HVF unlike other journos. I just want to know, if (at least) you have any solid data for the volume of the Arjun MK1 MBT? If individual data on volume of Hull & Turret is very hard to get for you, even the total volume of the Arjun MK1 would suffice.

    3) You have already pointed out production "glitches" at HVF
    [The army has apparently held back its indent until it is sure that the T-90S tanks already built by HVF are free of production glitches.]

    a) Can you elaborate what all production "glitches" Army found that has made them to hold back ordering larger number of T-90s?
    b) Was there any "glitches" on the early T-90s that was assembled with the kits from Russia?
    c) Is it due to the same production "glitches" at HVF that has made Army to hold back larger batches of Arjun MK1/MK2

    4) The 1,000bhp V-92S2 & the related transmission is being manufactured next door at Engine Factory.

    Do we have complete ToT for manufacturing these powerpacks under licensse from Russia? There is now a newer version V-92S2F with 1,130bhp for T-90. How difficult/challenging will it be for the OFB & Engine factory to install an uprated engine for future batches of the T-90?

    5) Why can't OFB, Engine plant & CVRDE uprate/uppgrade this engine to meet the power requirements of the Arjun MK1/MK2 and the FMBT instead of building another engine?

    a) Is it too hard for the above mentioned agencies to upgrade the engine (in volume, if required) or simply uprate the engine for higher power? Is it beyond the technical capablity of these agencies to produce an engines with higher power based on the V-92S2? I can't understand....

    b) Considering that we do (?) have ToT for the 1,000bhp you have any info on whether there is / there was any attempt or any plans for uprating this engine (& transmission) to 1,400bhp-1,500bhp?

    c) Also, don't you think that a 1,500bhp engine based on the V-92S2 would have been logically better and lower risk approach for powering the Arjun Mk1/MK2 & FMBT?


  7. @Ajai sir

    I think may be you have stirred the hornest nest at the wrong time. Your article stating the T90S production was to a grinding halt has led to some very cuastic reaction from Russian press.

    They allege that its not Russia but India and entities associated with T90S manufacturing that are causing the program a halt. They say India firms are unable to fully comprehend/analysis what lies in the making of T90S, and are making noise for their shortcoming.

    I say may be both of you are correct. The unwillingness of MoD to outsource critical large component manufacturing to private players is the prime. Small private players are engaged in only few minor small parts.

    Another reason is that at HVF there is only one shift whereas work in 2 shifts could be easily done to quicken the manufacturing process.

    I presume that after inducting 310 T90S, 347 T90SM and making 300 more of them in India, defense forces are awaiting details of the T90AM, the most advanced version that was rolled out a few months backs.

    I think the remaining 700 will be T90AMs, but i do wise the HVF recruit more people. Lets keep our fingers crossed

    Oh by the way answers for most of the questions i asked still remain unanswered.

    Happy reading tankman:D


    Joydeep Ghosh

  8. Being cautiously optimistic but it appears like the Army is capping the T-90 numbers at 900 in favor of the Arjun.
    Shuklaji please let me know if you feel the same from your research ?

  9. Yes, piecemeal ordering is blocking potential economies of scale and emerging as enemy no.1 of the defense industries.

    So for further orders the advanced T-90AM shall be ordered and all other T-90 shall be gradually upgraded to the T-90AM standards.

    After this project, India shall never import the heavy and medium Tanks.

  10. after Gorshacow , Our Russian friends have learnt how to milk us!!!
    Its quite surprising that only 150 tanks have been made in a decade!!!There are too many cooks and crooks out their hiding in different cammo and masks who are trying to scuttle in many ways our defence systems. yes why cant we improve the engine and adapt it to Arjun ,ofcourse much heavier as we have paid the TOT money!!! Too many skeletons in the cupboard....
    earlier few years ago FRONTLINE and THE WEEK and INDIA TODAY used report on indian defence... i used to feel proud after reading the achievements our defence industry and armed forces as well.. After reading these kind os hard hitting articles ,I feel disoriented !! whither goest thou?

  11. What a mindblowing five part series. Did i hear you say that you are right now in blore and you visited the ADA ?

  12. @ABCD

    I admire your concern for national security but, whoa!! Even a jobless guy like me didn't bother to go through your unending list of questions, let alone thinking about answers. Colonel is a journalist, not some customer-care executive.

  13. @Ajai Shukla :

    Why do you keep arguing that the Russian Army has not accepted the T-90 ?

    Wiki clearly says that Russian Army has 436+266 tanks in service.

    This figure is more than the no. of Challenger 2 tanks with the UK.

  14. "Complete and utter mismanagement of wealth and resources" by Indian leadership. Nobody can fault the foreigners, if we don't know what we are dealing with. Technical language is different from legal language which is totally different from Political language, which the average folks can rarely fathom. I understand from your reports Col.Shukla, that you have presented Technical reports, which speak of technical short-comings, while impinging on legal aspects, which I am sure you may not be fully aware. As such, it behooves oneself, if we stop bad-mouthing the dealer we are dealing with in public forums, without sacrificing the discussion of technical topics. If the discussions remain purely technical or non-political, one can clearly assuage the implications. However defense is such a topic which can rarely be left apolitical. To the nations strategic planners, a leaf out of supply-chain management, in electronics product assembly and manufacturing, each component is researched to have atleast 3 alternate vendors, just in case, one vendors shuts shop. I am sure, Indian strategic planners have even superior supply-chain management skills, if not, then I can only pray.

  15. Someone in Indian establishment (Military, Ministry, Bureaucracy, Scientific Orgs, Planning) is not doing their homework properly, hence the failed results. If we keep lowering the bar for selection to the services and offices, from among those who consistently fail to do their homeworks in schools and colleges (basically lack merit), then how do we suppose will these same selections perform in services and offices, where the life of the nation is being decided? Shivers my Timbers, when I think of such inept propositions from those already in power. Rest assured, if we as Indians, ignore such readings, no one can stop our own fall. Each of our founding fathers (Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Bose, Venkatraman, Jinnah) were all highly educated intellectuals of their times. Since then all we have elected are miserable 10th fail high-school dropouts, and the trend continues. We if don't make our system strict and disciplined, then we are spawning termites within our national tree.

  16. Our politicians, pandering to constituency compulsions are arbitrating the future of our nation. It would behoove these politicians, to first become self-aware and then to raise awareness within their constituencies towards the common goals of the nation. What I find in current dispensation is complete and utter greed, which is guiding them to self-destructive goals.

  17. Anna,

    this is so true. We need to focus the individual willpower/capability into a delivering a good product.
    Systems engineering approach is a must.

    BTW, are you a mechanical engineering graduate?

  18. ABCD@15:09, 2nd Dec,

    All those points have been considered by the PTB.... so relax. safe hands here...

  19. @No_Offence,

    No offence taken as we both have the right to put our point of view and the right to agree or disagree.

    Your thought & understanding on journalism & journalist is very sad & disturbing. Probably its a sad reflection of how the jobless youngsters & elders in our society is getting disengaged from the reality and it shows their general understanding about journalism or the work of a journalist.

    A journalist work is not blabbering infront of the camera and copy-posting others work to create a "mixed jam" and presenting it in the print or visual media. A Journalist has to be much more than a customer care executive and as good as a scotland yard officer pursuing an investigation. That is the level of commitment & intellectual capacity that a journalist should possess, particullarly, those preparing & pursuing investigative reports.

    I liked Ajai Sir's article because he is reporting it after his personal visit to HVF and not on hearsay like some other blogs do. I know he is a busy person but as a reader, I put forward my genuine querries with the hope of getting reply. If he have the time and patience to reply, I'll be thankful. Else, its ok. Its his choice to reply or not. No worries.

  20. Foreign purchase... means... money in... pocket... so kill the... any golden egg laying... goose (indiginous manufacturing capability)... which stiffles... money making opportunity... of the Generals... at any cost...

  21. @ Anonymous 3 December 2011 11:42

    Do you mean the engine?

    @ Ajai Sir,

    I was asking about uprating the engine because the Poles were offering their "pirated" version of Russian engine with 1,000bhp in the international market.

    They like us Indian's have been producing the Russian engines locally. But the difference being they managed to uprate the 780bhp T-72 engine to 840bhp and then finally they offered the 1,000bhp engine. i.e Poland without Russian help (call it piracy or anything, but still) have been able to uprate the older 780bhp T-72 engine upto 1,000bhp. ie an increase of 220bhp.

    Compare that to what we Indian's have been doing. We have been producing the 1,000bhp V-92S2 engine for many years now. And still CVRDE and others is sort of wasting time & money on a new engine for Arjun MK1/MK2 & FMBT. This is what puzzles me.

    So what I wanted to know is,
    1) If the concerned estblishments explored the possiblity of upgrading the V-92S2 to meet the MK1/MK2 requirements and what was the outcome if they did so.
    2) If they did not, why?

    Another question that arise is what is the use of ToT then? If the engine also came with ToT and we are not able to learn anything from the ToT for employing it for our future needs, then why spend money on ToT in the first place?

    What are the CVRDE, OFB & Engine plant trying to showcase to the Indian public....... that even after having produced T-72 engines and then later on the newer version with T-90, Indian establishments doesn't have the technical capablity to even catch up with what the Poles did years ago?


  22. Celex Technologies was incepted on 26th March 2003, with an objective of production of distribution of ‘High Security Registration Plate’(HSRP). The Company is based in West Bengal with presence all over India through its group Companies.

  23. Russian denial

    "Russian diplomatic sources in India believe that the media rumors reflect the attempts by the Indian side to shift the responsibility for its own inability to manage the production of sophisticated military equipment."

    Source :

  24. @ajai sir

    whatever may be delays and we should not care were they are from from rus, america or india. Both t-90 and arjun should be with army with enough training before next conflict. And their lethality and accuracy should make enemy shit their pants.
    Thats all.

    Sanket jagtap

  25. ABCD!!! By the way are working for any agency which is good at interrogation?

  26. The four cycles of Tank business has let modernisation of rest of the Army down. Since independence we are mired in the spiral of the tank business and nothing else. A single tank of Indian Army is yet to go beyong five km of the border having spent crores and crores.

    Let this tank business have a break and Indian Army pay attention to the other vital spheres.

    To hell with these tank cycles.

  27. @ Anonymous 4 December 2011 11:16

    Not interrogation but auditing....

    But rather than asking me the questions all Indians should be asking themselves these questions. Why are we wasting our precious budget if we are not able to make use of the technology that we get.

    In the case of T-90s, there is a serious question that arise. i.e Why are we wasting our money by paying the Russians for the ToT, when we can't make use of it in the future....

    I can give two examples...
    1) V-92S2 (I'm not 100% sure if ToT is there). But we do manufacture these at home and still we are not able to make use of the engine or technology for our Arjun MBT.

    2) ToT regarding 2A46-2 smoothbore cannon.

    We saw genuine questions being raised by Ajai sir regarding the delay in ToT. But what after the ToT....Since all of the world have moved to SB cannon, its probably a matter of time when Arjun too shift to SB cannon. In that case, will we (OFB,CVRDE etc) be able to make a 120mm smoothbore cannon for the Arjun MK2/Mk3 or FMBT by making use of the technology that we are suppose to get through the Russian smoothbore cannon?

    That is the big question. Can we or are we able to employ the technology we are getting through ToT for our future needs? If we are not, then its a complete wastage of money by paying the Russians for ToT.

  28. are all five arjun articles finished? one thing u didnt mention will more arjun orders be placed? being an ex army guy yourself, whats the feel you get or arjun orders?

  29. abcd, tot is used for spares not for future programs, thats generally the attitude in PSU and industry. only now its changing, somewhat. psu's are only doing what service orders. they don't take risks.

  30. Interesting article. What is the total quantity of T-90S now in Indian service?

  31. I really enjoyed your blog Thanks for sharing such an informative post.


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