Army proposes to scrap Future Main Battle Tank: instead build successive models of the Arjun - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Monday 26 November 2012

Army proposes to scrap Future Main Battle Tank: instead build successive models of the Arjun

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Nov 12

The indigenous project to build a Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT) is being quietly buried by the army. Instead, the army’s tank directorate has proposed keeping  faith with the home grown Arjun tank, while incrementally improving it into the future backbone of the army’s strike forces.

Senior army sources tell Business Standard that the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF), which oversees the army’s tank force, has formally proposed that the Arjun be gradually improved through successive models --- Mark II, Mark III, Mark IV and so on --- rather than attempting a major technological leap into the unknown, which is what the FMBT would be.

On Dec 06, 2010, Defence Minister AK Antony had informed parliament that the “FMBT is likely to be developed by the year 2020.” He said the army had already conceptualised its requirements and the DRDO was carrying out a feasibility study.

Now, by consensus between the DRDO and the DGMF, the future of indigenous tank building is to flow from the Arjun. Two Arjun regiments, consisting of 128 tanks, are already in frontline service. And a Mark II version of the Arjun is undergoing trials in Rajasthan. The army has committed to buying 118 Arjun Mark II tanks after trials are successfully concluded.

These orders for just 246 Arjuns are insignificant, complains a senior DRDO official, given that the army fields about 4000 tanks. To evolve the Arjun through successive models, the army would have to operate the tank in larger numbers and cooperate closely with the DRDO. This, says the DRDO official, would require a mindshift amongst senior army generals who tend to favour imports.

Three important realizations drive the DGMF’s new proposal. Firstly, there is growing acceptance of the Arjun, after its strong performance in field trials. Secondly, the need for an industrial “eco-structure” for providing spares and maintenance backup for the Arjuns that are already operating. This would come up only if a viable number of tanks are in service. Finally, the DGMF believes that there are no recent breakthrough technologies in armoured vehicle design, which eliminates the logic for building an entirely new tank.

This DGMF decision not to develop an FMBT stems from the difficulty it faced in drawing up specifications for the new tank. A key hurdle was in reconciling the need for a four-man tank crew (like the Arjun, and unlike Russian tanks that have a three-man crew) with the simultaneous wish for a lighter tank that weighed not more than 50-tonnes. The 60-tonne-plus Arjun has been criticised as too heavy.

Says a key general: “All contemporary three-man-crew tanks weigh 50-tonnes, like those being built by South Korea, Turkey and Japan. Adding a fourth crew member also adds roughly 10-tonnes of weight, due to increase in the tank size and weight of armour. But we were asking for a 50-tonne FMBT that would have a four-man crew. It just didn’t add up.”

Meanwhile, Israel Military Industries (IMI), which provides consultancy to the DRDO on tank design, has advised that the Arjun could be gradually pared down to below 60 tonnes, from the 65 tonnes of the current Arjun Mark II.

In a 2008 seminar, organized by the DGMF, Israeli Major General Yossi Ben-Hanan --- an acclaimed tank designer who fathered Israel’s successful Merkava tank --- told an attentive audience that tank design is evolutionary, each design building upon the previous one. The Israelis began designing their Merkava Mark-1 MBT in 1970; today they have the world class Merkava Mark-4.

The DGMF’s proposal to scrap the FMBT indicates that it has bought into the concept of evolutionary development. The Arjun Mark II, which is currently undergoing field trials in Rajasthan, has 79 improvements over the Mark I that is in service. These include: the ability to fire an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM); a panoramic electro-optical sight for the commander; an improved suspension; and an auxiliary generator for powering the Arjun’s electricals when the main engine is not running.

The army has not responded to an emailed request for comments for this article.


  1. @Ajai sir

    first thing, in your last post you said army was trying to scuttle Arjun project and now you say army wants upgrades in Arjun tank in tranches, isnt this contradictory

    a few things

    1.The latest development means a huge and justified lifeline to the Arjun tank, isnt it

    2. These developments will push up the number of Arjun tanks to atleast 800 in the minimum, whats your opinion

    3. The realization that 4 man crew in 50 ton tank is impossible should have come earlier

    4. I think focus should have been from the start to upgrade Arjun in tranches and since its not suitable for mountains a light tank with mix of T90 MS and Tank Ex should be developed

    5. Scrapping FMBT should not be taken as depressing as 800+ Arjuns and 1800+ T90S-Bhisma/MS and upto 600+ uprated T72M1s should be enough for India's potent tank army

    6. Most importantly even before further developments on Arjuns are carried out work should start on upgrading the rail/road infrastructure that will allow these tanks to reach/cross the border

    whats your say


    Joydeep Ghosh

  2. keep fmbt on a slow burner... and foremost... fmbt should be kept away from avadi chennai... secondly engineering to be fully in private indian domain... thirdly outsource R&D to IIT/NIT/IISc... put MOD bureaucrat with explicit mandate to bludgeon the generals into submission...

  3. Why not do both Arjun MK3 and FMBT as separate teams. Can't we reduce the weight of Arjun MK2, by reducing it from a 4 to 3 man crew tank, close to 55 tonnes. Just to reduce the size of it, will not take more than year. FMBT also should be tried as a 3 man crew tank.

  4. How do you reconcile this with your previous post...which tank will be the mainstay of IA in future? T-90 or Arjun?

  5. The portion of the blog-post which states, "This, says the DRDO official, would require a mindshift amongst senior army generals who tend to favour imports", makes a case for viewing the issue from a quality-paradigm prism.

    Clearly, the official quoted in the article would appear to be in need of sensitization to the "customer-focus" aspect of vendor-user relationships. The Army has the responsibility of meeting the challenges of defending the Nation and for equipping itself for the task within rigid time-frames. How can we fault the decision, for procuring duly validated weapons-systems as opposed to committing precious resources to drawing boards, which have only an average performance record? Should the user decide what is required or should the supplier declare what is best for the user?

    The "concept of evolutionary development" speculated upon in the article would be more in tune with a Kaizen like incremental enhancement which, probably in the views those responsible, would better suit their requirements rather than a big-bucks innovation which could turn out to be yet another tunnel without a light at it's end.

  6. FINALLY, some wisdom dawns on the 'powers-that-be'.


  7. Right Decision by DGMF.

  8. this is the process...and this the only process for every classic and mature product....its basic....why should waste money and time for FMBT.

  9. @ joydeep ghosh

    If you read more carefully and think more deeply before dashing off lengthy questions, you might find that all your answers are in the articles that you've just skipped through.

    Firstly, as evident from the two articles, there is not just "an army". There is the MO Directorate, which wants one thing, and the DGMF, which wants another.

    The MO finds it perfectly fine to scuttle Arjun trials to buy T-90s for its mountain formations. But if MO prefers T-90s to Arjuns, how does that stop the DGMF from preferring Arjuns to FMBTs?

    Pretty simple logic.

  10. @ sunlit

    That is the short-sighted way of looking at it. The long-sighted way would be: we would be much better prepared for our primary task of defending the nation if we were not reliant on Russia for our armour --- especially given their record of cheating us on price and technology transfer --- and instead develop our own tank.

    Pretty simple logic.

  11. "..short-sighted.."
    Not at all. It would be short-sighted to to not go by past records. How do the indigenously developed systems rank in relation to their cutting-edge counterparts in the international arena?

    We are all proud of our homegrown achievements, but to shove proposals down the throats of the forces in place of actual and proven systems is a very dangerous proposition.

    By all means, indigenous developments must proceed apace and prove their mettle in competition to what is available elsewhere.

    But there's no case for "Be Indian Buy Indian" anymore. Those empty slogans are in the past.

    What's best for India alone needs to be considered.

  12. Tank on tank engagements are becoming a thing of the past given the rapid advances in PGM equipped UAS. Additionally, lt armd vehicles as well as arty equipped with PGM can take out tanks. So, is the MoD thinking of this?

  13. Thank God, the light of knowledge has shown on the powers to be!

    Every country in this world has produced their own weaponry incrementally over the years. It was only us who wanted the best in the shortest possible time without realising that the level of excellence in the technological field can only bestow upon us the best capability.

  14. Ghorcharrah Gabbar27 November 2012 at 11:15

    This issue has seen much 'flame and blame' on this blog. I don't know what do we need to declare Arjun dead once for all? It just comes back to haunt these blogs and insult common intelligence. I am plainly disgusted and shamed by the abject capitulation of the powers that be at giving Arjun yet another chance instead of a good burial.

    The Arjun is a patchwork effort - disparate major components / assemblies sourced from diverse foreign manufacturers and tossed up as a MBT - a la Frankenstien. While it may be argued that this is an almost universal design and development approach for MBTs to cut costs and exploit leading-edge technologies, CVRDE has 'grafted' various sub-systems together in a fig-leaf approach to cover major design flaws and performance deficiencies. The results of the design audit by an Israeli consultancy team are still under wraps but I figure that the ARJUN Mark 2 is the result of reconstructive surgery to remove fatal design & performance flaws. Ask the two armoured regiments that are reeling under the maintenance / repair load of a huge number of 'dead' tanks.I'd say the DRDO and EME are getting better at the 'cut-nip-tuck' system of field maintenance - replace not repair.

    This blog forever bemoans the Indian Army's maniacal preference for foreign MBTs (read T-90) whereas nothing about the ARJUN is Indian except the hull & turret shell, a 120mm rifled pea-shooter and the HSUs. Why even the design is a Leopard 2 inspiration, quite like Bollywood and Bappi Lahiri who continue to draw similar inspiration from overseas; we even needed foreign consultants to validate the design and selectively publicised areas where the consultants found no technical arguments. The sources of the foreign components are primarily German and French - that is multi-national.

    So if DRDO has its say, we continue to re-validate the design and performance of Arjun Mark 1 or 2 based on major systems that are entirely foreign and then magically ramp up an indigenisation effort to turn-out Indian versions of a powerpack, tracks, road-wheels, radiators, fire control systems (especially the target acquisition systems), the gun control cubicle etc etc. My, my - are we dumb or are we sold ???

    Take for instance the dated 120mm rifled gun - RIFLED !!! Not only is the FSAPDS ammo under-performing (penetration was found wanting during the comparative trials with T-90s), the HESH ammo is a product of DRDO kitchens - no other ammo variant such as fragmentation or multi-mode HE ammo has been developed due to a pronounced inability. SO the DRDO gets LAHAT gun-launched missile as a third ammo variant claiming they had planned for the same. There is no HEAT or multi-mode anti-personnel 120mm ammo. The DRDO has not been able to design a single HEAT warhead for indigenously manufactured ammo till date - forget the ancient 106mm RCL round or the famously-absent Nag ATGM warhead. Infact the DRDO insistence on the superiority of a rifled gun is so bloody contrived to conceal their poor ammo design abilities. Instead of being an additional ammo variant for precision, long-range engagements, LAHAT has become a convenient plug-in to blunt criticism of poor ammo diversity. How many LAHAT rounds will each tank carry as its on-weapon ammo scale ? The LAHAT fire control system, including target designation system, possibly requires a stand-alone installation in its night-capable form. Given LAHAT's 300 m/s velocity, a target at 4000m will require to be tracked and designated by the firing tank (if not externally designated) for atleast 14 secs. While this acquisition-cum-engagement duration maybe acceptable as an odd exception for engaging helicopter targets or other ultra-critical battlefield threats but certainly not for its role as secondary tank ammo - irrespective of its hit/kill probability specs.

    Contd ....

  15. Ghorcharrah Gabbar27 November 2012 at 11:17

    ...Contd from my previous comment

    Examples abound of DRDO's proven inabilities in ammo development - the 81mm smoke grenades for the in-service MBTs and ICVs are incapable of creating instantaneous smoke-screens despite years of DRDO efforts; the 84mm Carl Gustav ammo is still 100% imported-design, indigenous manufacture; the 'vaunted' SHAKTI grenades to replace the HE-36 have yet to go into mass manufacture; even the 125mm HEAT ammo retains the original Soviet design; the in-service ATGMs (KONKURS, FAGGOT, MILAN) retain original warheads; why even the 125mm FSAPDS AMK 340 is absurdly underperforming when it manages to reach the target. Come to think of it, the DRDO has not been able to develop even training / practice variants of main gun ammo for the 125mm gun. Check the INSAS story - what an expensive lesson for us to learn!

    To date the DRDO has not been able to indigenise an ARV; its upgrades for the Vijayanta were actually downgrades from the performance and reliability points of view; the T-55 upgrade fared no better beyond a 105mm gun. What has the DRDO done for the T-72 that has dramatically improved the tank's performance in firepower, mobility or survivability? Why has the DRDO failed in even providing a FCS upgrade for the T-72 series to fire the numerous variants of the APFSDS ammunition. Why is their design prowess unquestionable when it comes to Arjun despite the fact that the entire A-vehicle fleet of the Indian Army epitomises the DRDO's kitchen garden abilities.

    I recall reading that adding a fourth crew member add 10 tons to a tank's weight. This is bunkum. At a pinch, remove the rotary conveyor in the T-72 and you can have a standing loader and tandem-seating for the commander and gunner. The T-55 is a legacy four-man crew design, the Paki Al-Zarar is another ad hoc design example where weight has not been a major gain. I have made some well-founded comments elsewhere in this blog about the weight distribution of contemporary MBTs between the turret and the remainder of the MBT chassis (refer to my comments on the posts on the FMBT earlier). In short the turret of the M1A2 (25 tons) and Leclerc (16 tons) point to the turret weighing approx 33% of the entire MBT's weight. Going by a parametric 33% turret weight yard-stick, for a 50-ton MBT the turret would expect to weigh upto 17 tons which is a fair guesstimate. The hull width (turret-basket) in the 4-man T-55 was 2000mm, in the Merkava (Mk 1) it was barely 26 cm more. The western and Russian designs differed in exploiting the sponsons to expand the turret ring over the tracks to gain ergonomic space in the turret, and additional armour plate externally. The ARJUN turret as well as the T-20 Leclerc turret have been experimentally fitted onto a T-72 chassis proving that this hybrid-design option is viable - whether for a four-man crew or a 20 round bustle-magazine.

    Given that the hull design of the T-72 has served the tank well and the hull dimensions impinge on the entire mobility envelope of a tank (strategic, operational and battlefield) as well as the transport / bridging ecosystem - I would strongly advise validation trials of a turret upgrade on a T-72 / T-90 hull. After all there's another empirical analysis of hits on 308 knocked-out Iraqi tanks by Manfred Held after Gulf War 1 which recorded 77% hits on turret vis.vis 23% on the hull by KE & HEAT projectiles fired from Coalition tanks and ATGM platforms. Given the advantages accruing from digitisation, optronics, conformal / modular armour arrays, ERA and other survivability facilitators, I'd say if we can perfect a modern four-man turret instead of wasting our energies on an entire MBT, we'd probably be wiser and meaner. The turret could be a DRDO wet-dream minus a rifled gun (please).

    Nothing over 50 tons ! Never.

    Meanwhile an independent design effort could be initiated comprising a front-engine A-vehicle chassis for a family of vehicles (ICV, H-APC, ARV, AERV, SP gun, SPAGU, light tank, medium tank, tracked logistic carrier).

  16. "Sunlit:We are all proud of our homegrown achievements, but to shove proposals down the throats of the forces in place of actual and proven systems is a very dangerous proposition."

    And how exactly is the T-90 proven? It even flunked trials for its subsystems during its handover procedures and was still inducted post haste.

    Perhaps if you spent time looking into the issue as versus acting like a patriotic apologist for the Army's flawed decision making, your statements would have some merit.

    Be Indian buy Indian is not some empty slogan. It has strategic connotations in being able to sustain a fight even if worldwide pressure is brought to bear on India. Something you clearly don't understand, and neither does the Army content as it is, with ad hoc imports and potbellied generals appearing on TV blaming the "civilians/DPSU/DRDO/politicians" for all their procurement issues. Everyone but themselves.

  17. "Finally, the DGMF believes that there are no recent breakthrough technologies in armoured vehicle design, which eliminates the logic for building an entirely new tank"

    That was apparent for a long time to anyone. The Army was bamboozled by all the brochures of the Russian "super tank" successor to the T-90 and when the Russians shelved it for a pretty conventional tank, the air went out the of the Indian Army's balloon.

  18. Maj Gen Israel Tal was the primary designer of the Merkava series. Maj Gen Ben-Hannan is a much decorated tank veteran, esp from battles in the Golan in '73, and may have provided valuable inputs, he certainly cannot be called the father of the Merkava.

  19. Rahul Samanta(Kolkata)27 November 2012 at 17:20

    @Ajai ji,

    I wrote the email to PM and DM after the post of yours that said that Army is scuttling Arjun in favour of T90 but now this post suggests that Arjun, infact, will be scuttling FMBT. Got confused but, then, looked at your response to Joydeep...Now you have clarified about DGMF and MO Directorate....So here is the thing:

    The Army and the politicians are playing mindgames....There is no difference between MO and DGMF, if one ever finds out the 'internal' truth....MO wants T90 instead of Arjun(foreign product instead of homemade product).....DGMF wants homemade product to replace homemade product...But no one is talking about replacing foreign product with homemade product....The plan is this: Since the Arjun can't be discarded considering the information about competitive trails having reached an assertive Indian public through open media, lets go on and on and develop Arjuns and in the meantime operationalize more and more T90s. Post 2020, Russia will come up with, say, T100 and then they will say that Arjun Mk3, Mk4 have failed to meet the parameters required from FMBT and then they will go for T100s....So Arjun will never reach beyond developmental stage in large numbers and will be retired....

  20. Rahul Samanta(Kolkata)27 November 2012 at 17:25


    Can you plz take a little pain to research(Google would be helpful) about the comparative trails between T90 and Arjun Mk1(and not even Mk2) in 2010 and share the details on this forum with the ignorant folks like me? It would be really helpful for people like me....

  21. Ghorcharrah Gabbar27 November 2012 at 21:14

    It was gracious of Broadsword to publish a detailed (and arcane) rant by me despite fewer and fewer takers for my line of argument. Admittedly, substance was lost amidst paragraphs of DRDO-bashing.

    In essence I now propose that we shelve the FMBT and shelve the ARJUN Mark 2 as a MBT. Instead we capitalise on the T-72/ T-90 hull and let the DRDO prove their worth with a new turret design based on the ARJUN experience and T-90 deficiencies. I had very few kind words for a DRDO hybdrid design (Tk-X) not too long back but I guess reality dawns!!


    The FMBT can be pursued separately as an developmental effort for exclusively designing a multi-purpose hull by DRDO or even the pvt sector.

    This hydrid approach will shorten the upgrade life-cycle, capitalise on existing infrastructure that caters to the T-series hull dimensions as well as promises a quantum upgrade to a T-series tank fleet at a significantly lower expense.

    This, actually, has been the essence of most evolutionary upgrades - Merkava I-IV, Challenger 1 & 2, M1-M1A2 (SEP), Leopard 2, T-64/72/80/90.

    Thanks for listening.

  22. @ajai sir

    i didnt ask any question i just gave my opinion

    as for the confusion it wasnt only me @Rahul Samanta was too.

    as of now it looks like both Arjun and T90S Bhisma/MS are here to stay


    Joydeep Ghosh

  23. I suspect the army just put this news out to cancel FMBT, at this time when they have put orders for T-90 to deflect negative news that the Army is not supporting local Arjun tanks. Once the orders for T90 are signed, Army will revert to stopping Arjun again.

  24. @Anonymous said, "..your statements would have some merit..".

    He, or she, then goes on to speak of a specific type of armor and some flaw that the comment maker might have come across while reading a blog or journal.

    The point is the principle. If the specific type of tank has drawbacks, real or imagined, go in for another tried and tested system. But where is the logic in empathising with the sentiment that all procurement be held in abeyance and divert the resources to R&D for a system to be produced, God willing, in the distant future?

    The idea being, one supposes, we'll depend on the good offices of the UN to stop any hostilities from breaking out in the interim??

    I doubt even Mr. Google can deliver such weird notions during a search. But the real problem with not being able to transcend this field orientation is the tendency to get mired, by force of habit, in the nuts and bolts of Mk I or VII, Make A or B and refusing to accept the intellectual challenge of viewing things from a higher vantage point.

    Conceptual reasoning is not that difficult to aspire to if we are prepared to rid ourselves of service-issue blinders.

  25. The Turks have managed to develop a new Tank 'Altay' which is in the 60 tonne category. Reportedly it was done in record time. Given the Turkish-Pak bonhomie, there will definitely be a tie-up to transfer the technology to the Pakis or the Pakis will even buy it. Then I am sure the army will not mind a 60 tonne tank, then I am sure they will asking for the Arjun. Oh wait, they will be asking to buy the M1A1 Abrams, the Leclerc, Leopard etc.

  26. @Rahul Samanta(Kolkata) said,"..Can you plz take a little pain to research.."

    Firstly, selection of a major weapons systems is not done by armchair generals with access to Google as the sole evaluation mechanism.

    But what is a very basic concept, of which no one is expected to be "ignorant", is that the user needs to evaluate its precise requirements and assign specifications to it. Any vendor that has the hubris to put forth a view that the user is ignorant, and only the vendor knows best, is way outside the comfort zone of anyone even vaguley familiar with the idea of 'Total Quality'.

    One can always aspire to rise above statistics of field trials, T-90 or Arjun comparisons, Mk 'That' or Version 'This' that one might have familiarised oneself during long stretches on trial ranges and instead search for some higher level concepts on the internet.

  27. Col. Ajai

    I have a query. Why do the designer team not accomodate a "commanders gun" like the one we see in western tanks?

    Also does MK2 version has a TUSK equivalent as found in ABRAMS?

  28. There looks to be a hidden plan of army.
    When Russian FMBT is ready, they will drop Arjun Mk.X and order Russian one, claiming that to be lighter!

  29. Anony.@13:17 I also suspect the same thing.

  30. I say screw the tanks. There has to be a change of mentality. We should develop the Nag ATGM and the Namica. In desert warfare, with long range field of view and firing taking places at long distances it will be very difficult to hit the moving target with a dumb shell. What we need is Fire n Forget 4th gen anti tank missile.
    Also in mountaneous terrain it will be highly useful to utilize HAL LCH helcops rather than ground tanks. Advantages of attack helcops in mountain warfare would be:
    1. Speed - I dont think I need t explain this advantage.
    2. Reach - the reach will be much more as it wont have to go through winding roads.
    3. Logistics - If key-points of our road network in the Himalayas are taken out by enemy missiles then it would take days for the tanks to travel small distances. The helcops would come in handy.
    4. Stealth - The helcops flying low between two ranges or hills will be absolutely protected from enemy radar.
    5. Survivability - If fired upon by a missile from known enemy position, the incoming missile will be easily countered by breaking the line of sight with the missile by going behind a hill feature or any other obstruction.
    6. Cost - Procuring cost will not be much higher if not same or lower. But maintenance and operational costs will be higher I think.

    I am no military expert, just a defence enthusiast and I think the days of plain old tanks are numbered.


Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last