Good enough for China, but India spurns Arjun tank - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 6 July 2015

Good enough for China, but India spurns Arjun tank

Inexplicably, the armoured corps widely believes patriotism involves using Russian, not Indian, tanks!

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th July 15

Chinese experts have given the thumbs up to the Arjun main battle tank (MBT), even as India’s own army continues side-lining it, inexplicably preferring to continue a four-decade-long dependence on Russian armoured vehicles.

Last week, a senior People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer at its premier tank design institution, the Academy of Armoured Forces Engineering in Beijing, told visiting Indian journalists that the Arjun tank is “very good”, and well suited for Indian conditions.

This could hardly have been pro forma politeness, as the PLA is not given to praising India’s military capabilities. It would appear that PLA officers, who are working closely with China’s defence industry in developing their new Main Battle Tank 3000 (MBT3000, also called VT-4), could be more aware than their Indian counterparts of the challenges and benefits of developing an indigenous MBT.

In contrast, India’s military has stood aloof, criticising and even undermining the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) as it struggled to design the Arjun tank.

To this day, the army has ordered only 122 Arjuns, the defence ministry told parliament on April 24. The Arjun equips just two of the army’s 63 armoured regiments --- 43 and 75 Armoured Regiments.

In comparison, the army has almost 2,500 T-72 tanks, many of which are night-blind and nearing the end of their 32-year service lives. The army will also have 1,657 of the more modern T-90S tanks, being built under licence from Russia by the Heavy Vehicle Factory, Avadi (HVF), near Chennai.

While the army’s vehement opposition to the Arjun was often valid in initial years, the Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment eventually overcame a series of glitches that dogged early versions of the tank.

In March 2010, the Arjun outperformed the Russian T-90S, the army’s premier tank, in comparative trials near Bikaner in March 2010. The trials, attended by the army chief and top generals, sent shock waves through the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces, the nodal office for armoured and mechanized regiments and their tanks and infantry combat vehicles.

No respite

Yet, the army’s opposition to the Arjun continued. Instead of the successful trials eliciting more orders, the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces demanded from the DRDO a long list of changes in the Arjun. The DRDO was told to incorporate the modifications into a new variant, the Arjun Mark II. If that proved successful in trials, the army undertook to order another 118 Arjuns.

“DRDO is presently engaged in the development of MBT Arjun Mk-II with 73 improvements (including 15 major improvements) over MBT Arjun Mk-I.  Out of these 73 improvements, 53 have been found successful based on User trials.  No time line for induction into Army can be fixed at this stage (sic)”, said the defence ministry in parliament on April 24.

The Directorate General of Mechanised Forces has taken various positions on why it does not want the Arjun. For years, it argued that the 62-tonne Arjun was too heavy; that it would get bogged down in desert sands, and that bridges and culverts on Indian border roads could not withstand such a heavy load. The army also complained the tank was too wide to be transported by railway.

This notion was comprehensively disproved during the comparative trials, when the Arjun proved more mobile than the lighter, 42-tonne T-90S, even on soft desert sand. A “third-party evaluation” done by Israel Military Industries (IMI), which had developed the highly regarded Merkava tank, concluded the Arjun would outrun most tanks.

Then, while continuing to argue that the Arjun was too heavy, the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces’ demand for 73 modifications to the Arjun quite predictably resulted in the tank becoming even heavier. The army’s demand for Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) to protect the crew added on one and a half tonnes. Another one and a half tonnes were added due to mine ploughs demanded by the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces, which churn up the ground ahead of the tank’s tracks, unearthing buried anti-tank mines. Numerous other modifications, including a commander’s panoramic sight, slapped on another two tonnes. From 62 tonnes, the Arjun now weighs 67 tonnes.

Adding missile power

The Arjun Mark II is now held up by the army’s insistence that it should fire an anti-tank guided missile through its main gun, which is actually designed to fire armour piercing and high explosive shells. DRDO approached Israel Aircraft Industry for its Lahat missile, which has not proved successful. Now, a Ukrainian design bureau has been approached for its Kombat missile.

Meanwhile, the army’s demanded modifications have doubled the Arjun’s cost from its initial Rs 18 crore. On August 29, 2011 the defence ministry told parliament “The likely estimated cost of each MBT Arjun Mark-II with all major/minor improvements will be approximately Rs 37 crore.”

Nor has the ill-fated Arjun project led to lessons being learnt on the need for cooperation between the DRDO and the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces in designing and bringing to service a next-generation indigenous tank. For years, the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces has been unable to specify the design requirements of the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT). Each successive director-general, traditionally a lieutenant general from the armoured corps, has brought his own ideas to the job, which have invariably diverged from those of his predecessor. In the circumstances, the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces has not responded to repeated DRDO requests for clear specifications.

“There has been no discussion on the FMBT, or consensus building across the armoured corps. Each Directorate General of Mechanised Forces chief consults only with a narrow group of officers around him. Without a corps-wide consensus, naturally there would be divergent views”, says a senior officer serving in the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces.

Without any idea of what kind of FMBT it wants, now the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces has now abdicated that decision entirely. In a Request for Information last month that has sent shock waves through the defence industry, the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces asked tank manufacturers to propose the design for a “new generation, state-of-the-art combat vehicle platform” that it has dubbed the Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV).

A senior retired tank officers points out: “An army that keeps abreast with tank design should not need to ask global vendors the specifications of its future tank. Vendors would, in any case, be guided by their commercial interests rather than by Indian operational requirements.”

Another striking feature in the FRCV proposal is the complete sidelining of the DRDO. With a foreign vendor leading the design process, and cobbling together a consortium to manufacture the tank, the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces --- and, in acquiescing, the defence ministry --- has abandoned the option of translating the DRDO’s experience and expertise gained during the Arjun project into a next-generation indigenous tank.

Going by past experience, the FRCV proposal too could end up in the trash can. If the government goes by the principle of seniority, the army chief after General Dalbir Singh, will be an armoured corps officer, General Pravin Bakshi. Like other senior tank-men he has been excluded from the FRCV proposal. Defence watchers believe a new decision will be taken, and the DRDO is waiting in the wings to play its role.


  1. This is utter nonsense and the Indian Army is completely guilty of changing the goal posts if they keep changing the design QRs as mentioned in the article. The DRDO should put its foot down and highlight this gross lack of responsible behaviour on the part of IA. It looks like the QRs are prepared by amateurs who scour the net looking for nice goodies to add to the wishlist without the faintest idea of what it takes to incorporate these pompous changes. This malaise has been seen in Indian made QRs right from the time of the ALH, who ever heard of a helicopter which will be an air ambulance, corporate helo, attack helicopter, ASW chopper,an AOP helicopter, and capable of climbing to 25000 ft!! What a challenge thrown at the designers!!

    1. Time changes army is static..those who remain static in their thoughts become the reuirementa change almost daily with new technology development by the others...

  2. Directorate General of Mechanised Forces... dumb... dud... leeches (generals)... british blood line... indian blood line... difference... spotted... their line of...

  3. just how can we take a Chinese opinion seriously? They will buckle up, laughing their guts out if we induct substandard military equipment on their advice. Naive indeed.

  4. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing? Who sets the requirements? The government
    should insist that the army buys the tank as it's bespoke tank for Indian condition.I think their head is turned by Russian Armata tank? Weed these idiots out. Make In India!!!

  5. Really... on what basis have the Chinese made this assessment? Do they have one on hand to put it to various tests?

    Mr Ajay Shukla, disgruntled ex-Army officers like you are a disgrace to the force. The objectivity of your reports keeps falling. You only write what your new pay masters like to hear. It's a shame that you are poisoning so many minds against the Army, in the pursuit of money!

    1. I second that opinion! Mr. ajai shukla, your support for the DRDO is so apparent that your articles should be renamed as 'IVE BEEN ASKED TO PROMOTE DRDO'. All your articles nowadays are just bad. Please go back to being a news correspondent. I loved you in that role..

  6. Incorrect. The article betrays a bias and is factually incorrect regarding the mobility of the Arjun tank. The DRDO if it is to be of any use should be under the control of the Defence Forces and then only will they be forced to provide in a time boind manner what the forces require. As things exist, its a very cosy nexus of persons having pretensions of being scientists and bureaucrats of the MoD who have little ground knowledge of the requirements but lot of experience in how files are required to be moved - either in the right direction or sent orbiting into outer space...

  7. The enemy would want you to commit a mistake. The Chinese are praising the tank at a time when the project is about to be scrapped. They have never done this before..

  8. Cant c a more jaundiced report than this put out. Rsther than painting sll with a sullied it time to investigste if such articles are motivated. ....who will holf the journalists accountable? ??? It is indeed s pity that the oublic at large is being misled. Did the author attend the comparitive trials comparing the two tks? Or does he have access to the confidential repirt. Mere ststing is not given to credibility....but alas our common public does not do these jornalists take advantage of on this . ....or take recourse to the fact they wont b ques....becusr serving offrs wont respond.
    The author hasn't even got the name of the next senior armoured corps officer much for his research and comments on him.What a pity....when will our nation get serious jounalism...shorn of petty alleged perfidy.

  9. Ajai, I remember your discussion with col. wyu about the arjun tank army years ago. You were very strongly against it. You had described the arjun tank as a "big dabba" filled with every possible sub-system from the open market. What changed your mind now?

  10. @ SachinWRT

    That's a perfectly valid question and one that I will answer. The Arjun was not a serious tank until 2008-2009 I think, when the DRDO licked the problem of heat-hardening its electronics, FCS, etc.

    A couple of years before the successful comparative trials, in another set of trials the Arjun was not able to even start up and its FCS went completely awry because of the heat. Those trials were called off in a couple of hours and the DRDO went back to the drawing board to heat-harden its electronics.

    That was the turning point. That was what led to the Arjun's success in comparative trials with the T-90.

    I'm not --- like everyone here seems to be --- ideological about my support for DRDO-built equipment. If it don't work, trash it, or go back to the drawing board. But if it meets a basic level of functionality, it has to be supported. The national interest demands that.

  11. NSR says ---

    Read an article saying that all Arjun's are grounded due to spares...

    India will go no where but down without ordering hundreds or thousands of manufacture and to keep upgrading...

    With large orders, no vendors will come forward to manufacture sub-assemblies...

    I only see mediocrity all around...

    God help India...

  12. What does the author have to say about the extremely low servicibility record if arjun... it has been reported to have very high breakdown rates in service.... and also there is a huge gap between the tanks sent in for trials and the one out of production line...

  13. Ajai, have you checked when did the current lot of tanks last fired, and why? It doesn't meet even the basic functionality, other than in mobility and communication. So you have a 60 tonne mobile radio!!!!

  14. Ajai, have you ascertained when did the current lot of MK-1s and the new MK2s kast fired their main gun. Will give you a better perspective of the status of this project. Currently, to my assessment - a 64 tonne mobile radio!!!



  16. Why is DRDO not offering the Arjun Mk 2 to foreign friendly nations ? Im sure there must be plenty nations looking for a solid MBT.

    For Ex - Nigeria, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, Botswana, Afghanistan, Jordan, South Sudan and Kenya and Iraq. For that matter even Egypt and Iran.

    The Indian Army does not have to be its only customer.

  17. After looking at the war in syria, I wonder how relevant these expensive tanks really are. Anti-tank ammunition is getting smaller and with better guidance system. Has fire support matured enough to support these tanks? If fire support can effectively clear these for the front units then I have no problem with these tanks else arjun will become a target practice.

    Urban warfare in syria -

    Also, the paks(for years) have been creating artificial flood areas, digging trenches, ditches and whatnot at various points to slow us down. We are yet to come up with a plan to bust through all this.

  18. Whatever the Arjun is now,it cannot be abandoned like the Marut.It needs to be worked upon and refined.Anything less,will mean you will always be subject to foreign powers,be they so very friendly now,might turn in the future.Unless you want to continue being a third-rate army, as it's sadly now, without proper basic weapons,ammunition,war reserves etc.

  19. Shri. Jean Luc Pickard, why Mk.2, even the Mk.1 can easily be marketed to the middle-east, Eastern Europe and Lat-Am republics. After all, its marketing point is that it comprehensively beat the Russian T-90 hands-down. It has been endorsed by Israeli Military Industries (IMI). And its a desert warrior to boot, unlike the Russian or European tanks that were built for temperate climes.

    You see, we shouldn't sell our very best abroad. We can extract value from the second best too. This is a common practice by all arms-exporting nations.

  20. How good is maintenance setup for Arjun. Are all the spares stocked up ? Are all equipment to service available ? Are the ammunition rounds in sufficient number manufactured + logistics setup fir all the above ?
    These rpthings take time. Let HVF make 248 ordered.

  21. @Abhiman: The Arjun is based on the western concept of armor, which focuses more on crew protection,comfort, ease(of operations), greater armor protection for combat survivability and NCW capabilities but in the process sacrificing things like durability,ruggedness, better mobility (not just speed), lesser maintenance and cost. It is designed to be used in lesser numbers when engaging a numerically superior (but individualy vulnerable) foe as envisaged by NATO Planners keeping the large number of Warsaw Pact armor formations in mind.

    Both western and eastern concepts have their own relevant logic. I suggested Mk2 because Per my understanding, it has some critical improvements that are needed to compete with established Tanks and their vendors of its class (most likely western tanks or hybrids coming out of Ukraine and Poland).

    Such as : Containerization of ammunition, Missile firing capability, LASER Warning receivers, better FCS, NV, and a perhaps an APU to power it all. Note The Arjun is not like the LCA where it has a ,great, price advantage. Therefore, The Arjun will have to compete on features and capability rather than affordability.

    Most of the nations I mentioned, do not share land borders with India, all of them have cordial relations with us, some can be considered allies. There is no 'secret feature' in these tanks that our enemies dont know about already.

    Thanks for reading.

  22. Jean Luc Pickard, it was proven by Col. Shukla by accessing govt. records itself, that the lighter, smaller and less sophisticated T-90 is already more expensive than the Arjun Mk.1. And this was before peripheral add-ons that the T-90 demanded to bring it upto task in Indian conditions, such as adding an AC, and some French/Israeli systems. In sharp contrast, the Arjun does not need an AC to keep its electronics from frying, unlike the T-90.

    So much for "sacrificing" ruggedness and durability. It has nothing to do with the tank's weight.

    The comparative trials of 2010 established that Arjun Mk. 1 has better firepower, armour and mobility than the T-90. It could withstand a point-blank hit, it could fire more accurately on the move, and has lesser ground-pressure than the T-90 (despite weighing 10 tons more). The last point ensures better mobility in various terrains like deserts or semi-arid or mountainous ones.

    True, the Arjun Mk.2 is even heavier than the Mk.1, but the Army itself asked for it in its "73 changes". You can't add things AND expect weight to go down. You have to judiciously balance between the two.

    One can't expect the armies of other nations to prefer Indian Army's changes. The Mk.1 itself can easily beat all Soviet/Russian/European tanks of a generation behind i.e. inducted upto the 90's. Most of the armies globally operate these tanks. The latest Abrams, Merkavas and Le Clercs are not in widespread use at all.

    Even Russians pitch their "export version" hardware to India and other nations, while keeping the very best for its own armed forces, till it becomes dated. China too follows the same principle. We must also not give away our latest and the best, when a Mk.1 is more than enough for the emerging world's market.


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