FMBT Part I: Army dithers over futuristic tank, DRDO pursues engine - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 1 January 2012

FMBT Part I: Army dithers over futuristic tank, DRDO pursues engine

The driving simulator for the Arjun tank developed by CVRDE Chennai. These can be coupled with gunner and commander simulators for holistic crew and tank troop training

By Ajai Shukla
CVRDE, Avadi, Chennai
Business Standard, 2nd Jan 12

India’s Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT), the backbone of the army’s strike power into the mid-21st century, languishes while the army continues an extended debate over its specifications.

A year ago, on 6th Dec 2010, Defence Minister AK Antony told the Lok Sabha that the army had formulated the FMBT’s specifications and the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) was carrying out feasibility studies. Antony, it now emerges, misled parliament. MoD sources say the army remains undecided about the basic features of the FMBT, including whether it should have three crew members or four. Consequently the army has not finalised the FMBT’s Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR), essential for sanctioning the project and allocating funding.

The PSQR also allows engineers to begin designing the FMBT. It specifies the tank’s capabilities and components, including its weight; dimensions; mobility; weaponry; armour protection; communications; and any special capabilities that are required, e.g. the ability to drive underwater; or operate on a nuclear battlefield.

But the DRDO has begun work, anxious to shield the FMBT from the delays that plagued the Arjun programme. The FMBT must roll out by 2020, when the army’s oldest T-72 tanks, which entered service in 1979, complete their 32-year service lives. Business Standard was granted exclusive permission to visit the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE), the DRDO facility outside Chennai where the Arjun Mark II is nearing completion; and the FMBT will be developed.

Dr P Sivakumar, CVRDE’s livewire director, revealed that work has begun on crucial FMBT systems, even without a PSQR. Based on the army’s weight limit of 50 tonnes for the FMBT, the DRDO has launched a “mission mode” project to develop an 1800 Horse Power indigenous engine. Sivakumar says that 1500 HP is sufficient for a 50-tonne tank, but the endemic danger of weight over-runs in a new tank makes a 300 HP margin prudent.

The project will co-opt domestic engineering companies like Kirloskar Oil Engines, Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), and the Mahindras; research institutions like IITs; and bodies like the Automotive Research Association of India (ARIA), Pune. An Indian “prime contractor” would assemble the FMBT engines from engine components supplied by a network of sub-contractors.

“India has never designed engines; engine technology has always been imported. But we will develop the FMBT engine as a national project. Our approach is not engine-specific; we are looking at developing the complete range of technologies needed for building engines. Not only design… but also manufacturing, testing, evaluation,” says Sivakumar.

This ambitious plan is cushioned with pragmatism. The DRDO has brought in international consultants to design the engine and build Indian manufacturing capability in engine-related fields. Sivakumar says that German companies MTU and Renk, which supply engines and transmissions for the Arjun tank, refused to provide consultancy, realising that building Indian capability would end their market here. DRDO is now evaluating consultancy proposals from Ricardo of Britain and AVL of Austria.

“Simultaneously, we have floated an Expression of Interest (EoI) to identify an Indian manufacturing partner. The consultant we select will work in a consortium with the DRDO; the army; and the Indian manufacturing partner, who will be associated with the programme from the design stage itself. We have allowed the consultants to visit manufacturing companies and report on their capability to build a modern engine,” explains Sivakumar.

The CVRDE director says that the consultants will finalise the engine design within 12 months, and take 18 months more to build the first prototype. “Within 30 months, or three years maximum, the first engine would be ready for testing,” he says.

“Both Ricardo and AVL have proposed that they design and build the first prototypes. But the Indian industry will work alongside the consultant. The first design is never perfect; so the consultant will make the changes needed in design, tolerances, or materials to refine the engine. Then, in the second phase, the Indian partner will produce the engine,” says Sivakumar.

Even as CVRDE develops this technological capacity, it is looking further ahead at a hybrid engine for the FMBT after 2030. Sivakumar says that a tank remains static for at least 40% of the time in battle, during which time its engine idles. “This means that 40% of the time, you wastefully run a 1500 HP engine, guzzling diesel and giving away the tank’s position, while you need very little power for running electricals like the radios and gun control equipment or for moving the tank slowly. So we are evolving a hybrid technology concept in which the tank will have two engines: a 500 HP engine for low power mode and another 1000 HP engine that kicks in when high power is required, e.g. for manoeuvring in battle,” explains the CVRDE director.

(Tomorrow: Choosing FMBT technology: the desirable versus the achievable)

The Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT)

• Army has not finalised FMBT specifications
• Tank required by 2020, when T-72s start retiring
• DRDO has begun work on 1500 HP engine
• Ricardo, AVL are potential design consultants
• Indian industry partner will manufacture engine
• Planning ahead for tandem “hybrid” engine


  1. "Hybrid" engine indeed and "low power" of a whopping 500 hp! Is there a typo of 50 hp instead of 500 ?. Isn't there something called APUs in tanks today that do exactly that ? Why most of the biggest trucks in the world today (google up Volvo and Mercedes and MAN websites) don't have engine sizes of 500 hp and infact, most APCs etc wont have 500 hp either.

  2. What does the Amru have to say on this. DRDO BHEL,HAL,NAL have always said brilliant things about not so brilliant equipment...
    The saving grace has always been, indegenious capabilities while actually outsourcing....

  3. Wouldn't it be better if improvements are made to Arjun rather than going for an entirely new concept ?

  4. @ajai sir

    first of all 'A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR' to you

    and now the reply or should i say querries based on what saw in rediff and business standard

    Q1. The name for FMBT is 'Karan', why name the tanks on tragedy kings from 'Mahabharata' likw 'Bhisma', 'Arjun', 'Karan'

    Q2. Is it viable to have 2 engines (500 hp for idling & 1000 hp for moving)when there is space problem

    Q3. You say work is on for a 1800 hp engine keeping in mind the inherent tank weight gains, FMBT is currently pegged at 50 tons. Wont it be prudent to keep the target at 45 tons so even if weight touches 50 tons, the weight will be manageable.

    Q4. The rediff image show 2 tanks (1 with and another with barrel) why?

    Q5. Last time you said things about T90 tanks, any updates on the work starting on the T90AM the latest version?

    hope to get answers


    Joydeep Ghosh

  5. Ajai, I have always maintained that the Indian Army is like Sigumnd Freud's proverbial woman when he is said to have remarked "After all these years of study, I have not been able to find out, what is it that a woman wants!" .

    The Army cannot EVER come up with a specs for a product. It is organizationally incapable of doing so. It is like a child lost in a candy shop, choosing this and that , and finally being lost and not being able to pick what it exactly wants. The Army is like a child lost in the international arms bazaar fascinated with all the toys and this and that, with barely an idea of what is it that it ACTUALLY needs.

  6. I appreciate DRDO's initiative on engine development. Without sharing the work (even if it means sharing a part of technology development to foreign companies), it would be very difficult to do everything by itself. This approach should have been followed from the beginning. But still, Better late than Never.

    -Sudheendra S

  7. Why does it have to be a 50 tonne tank. The army is thinking with the T model cap on. The tank needs good armour to protect its crew like M1Abraham, Merkava, Leopard and all MBT except of soviet origion.

    Why is the foucs not on Depleted Uranium ammunition and armour. DU ammunition was the single most important factor in US armour overwhelming kill in Iraq Wars. The DU armour on M1Abraham made the shells fired from T72 tanks bounce off harmlessly while DU amuunition rounds insured a first time kill as DU is one o the hardest material devloped and has great penetrating power on steel. There are envionmental sideeffects but not more important then winning wars. Also all major armies have now DU stockpiles, including Pak and its better to fire DU shells on enemy territory then have it land on ours.

  8. when was the PSQR supposed to be final??

  9. Is it a case of "Arming without Aiming" for DRDO? Where would one require these tanks by say 2030?? By then water of all the three rivers of Pakistan would be flowing all along the border areas including in Sindh. Our deserts would have turned fertile with all water from Pakistan side seeping into Hakara depression.Would they require a 50 ton tank to climb Himalayas with an APU!! Ah ! you mean to say tanks will be the mainstay of country's military deterrent till around 2050? We are doing well !

  10. There is Make versus Buy, then there is DRDO: Make what that no one wishes to Buy! From Rifle to Tank, Helicopter to Aircraft!

  11. What happened to the earlier DRDO project (launched in 2003 according to wiki) for making a 1500 hp tank engine? See (under Engine)para in the Bharat Rakshak site and "Upgrades" in wiki link below-

    In addition to this , there was a project charter document for the 1500 hp engine floating around on the net, released by DRDO. I read it a few years back which outlined all the private companies partnering with DRDO on that effort.

    I am surprised that there is absolutely no mention of this past effort to develop the engine in the article or by DRDO biggies.

    Has the DRDO decided to quietly bury the failures of the past to start on new failures? I guess DRDO is in the business of selling dreams as much as selling defence platforms and both go hand in hand. As long as there is a bunch of idiotic taxpayers (including myself) footing the bill, WTF does DRDO care?

    Cheers to another decade of "development" of a new tank engine. And then, we will import the T-100 or T-120? Jai Hind.


  12. "40% of the time, you wastefully run a 1500 HP engine, guzzling diesel and giving away the tank’s position, while you need very little power for running electricals like the radios and gun control equipment or for moving the tank slowly. So we are evolving a hybrid technology concept..."

    Interesting. So it seems that the smaller electric motor shall be used as an APU as well. The more I think about it, the more I like it.

  13. "Business Standard, 2nd Jan 11"

    Ajai ji - shouldn't it be 2nd Jan 12?

  14. I wish they would build a super-duper STRONG lighweight tank. They can then use it as a base for all present and future systems ---> like nag missile carrier, lazer system carrier, etc.

  15. The hybrid engine may be compact and fitted within less volume than the combination of normal engine and APU.

  16. I think the DRDO / AVRDE need to concentrate on a Gas Turbine Engine, a possible distant cousin of the Kaveri adapted for the FMBT.

    Just like the Navalized Kaveri is under development, this too should be a goal for the future.

  17. IA may want another T-xx rather than Indian tank!

    BTW sir what about IAC floatout? got any pictures? please....


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