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Arjun Production Program

Pakistan's announcement in 1995 of a deal with Ukraine to purchase T-84s caused a flurry of activity in the Indian tank development community. And on 9 January 1996, the Arjun was formally unveiled and cleared for mass production. Further improvements were deemed necessary even after the Arjun design profile was accepted again in July 1996. On 27 August 1996, the Defense Production and Supplies Secretary ordered 15 pre-production tanks from the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi (at which point, estimates placed the project cost at $112 million).

The DRDO needed to manufacture and deliver at least 500 tanks to make the project feasible. The Arjun production line at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) near Chennai, established at a cost of Rs 50 crores, was capable of producing 20 Arjuns annually. Initially 12 prototypes were developed during 1983 to 1990 and they were subjected to field trials of more than 20,000 kms and 1100 rounds. Based on user feedback 15 pre-production vehicles were developed during 1990 to 1995 and they were subjected to field trials of more than 70,000 kms and 8000 rounds. After the satisfactory trials, army placed an indent initially for 15 limited series production in November 1997 and cumulatively 124 in Mar 2000. The development of Arjun was carried out in a number of stages and evaluation through extensive field trials. After satisfactory performance, Army placed an indent for the full compliment of 124 MBT Arjun in March 2000.

As of mid-2000 India planned to acquire T-90 tanks, based on field trials which had already been completed. The T-90 tanks are manufactured indigenously by Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) under licensed production from Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). Although orders had been placed for the supply of 124 Arjun tanks through the Defence Research Development Organisation, it would be difficult to predict when these orders would be fufilled. Until such time, T-90 tanks would serve to counter Pakistan's T-85 tanks.

The first 120 tanks to be built would cost $4.2 million each, while other cost estimates places the figure at $5.6 million each per tank by 2001, given a purchase of 124 tanks to equip two regiments. Production of the first batch of tanks might take more than the planned five years, given the capacity at the Avadi factory.

As there was a long gap from the R&D phase to production phase from 1993 to 2000, problems related to re-establishing production lines and vendor sources and resolving overseas issues like technology denial in view of Pokhran testing, change over and mergers of OEMS for the critical items, delayed initial commencement of production. In order to meet the production requirement, additional infrastructure facilities and machine tools were established at HVF, Avadi and Ordnance Factory, Medak. Arjuns production was basically planned as an ambitious project with complete indigenous components and assemblies but it was later revealed that the Arjuns sub-systems were all imported except for the hull and the turret. The imported assemblies include all major sub-systems such as engine, transmission, track-suspension, gin and fire control. This is not uncommon around the world. Israels Merkava tank family also relies on a foreign-built engine, for instance, as does Frances Leclerc.

The main battle tank Arjun was productionised in 2004. The first production batch of five indigenously manufactured Main Battle Tank Arjun rolled out of the Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi, Tamil Nadu on August 7, 2004. The first pilot batch of production tanks was handed over to Army on 07 August 2004 in the presence of the then Defence Minister Shri. Pranab Mukherjee. In September 2004 Chief of Army Staff, Gen NC Vij said that the rolling out of Arjun marked a big step towards reducing Army's dependence on imports. However, he remarked that the new tank had to prove its worthiness in the subsequent trials. The General also called for expediting the process of production and said that he would be happy if the HVF rolled out 50 tanks every year.

During subsequent production, Army insisted upon the demonstration of medium fording capabilities of MBT Arjun. Both CVRDE and HVF, continuously worked on war footing, to meet the stringent requirement of medium fording to a height of 2.1m in water with preparation time of 30 minutes as retro-fitment solution and demonstrated successfully to Defence Minister Shri A.K.Antony and other dignitaries on 2nd July 2007. Subsequently, the production tanks were incorporated with all medium fording modifications and the next batch of nine tanks were handed over by September 2007.

Out of 124 ordered for tanks by the users, only 15 tanks had been produced by the Heavy Vehicle Factory, Avadi as of April 2008. At that time the second batch of 15 tanks was in the final stage of completion. Cumulative 69 tanks were under various stages of assembly and integration. By May 2008 there had been some delay in issue of tanks to Army due to design modifications and removal of defects noticed during various trials by Army. The manufacture of Arjun tank was being regularly monitored through Working Group headed by Director General Mechanised Forces and Steering Committee under the co-chairmanship of Secretary (Defence Production) and Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri.

In the four years up to February 2009, over 90 Arjun main battle tanks had rolled off the production line. The delivery schedule for all the 124 tanks in March 2009 was stipulated.

Total requirement of the Army is about 3500 Tanks. Army placed an indent the manufacture 124 MBT Arjun and Arjun assembly has started functioning. With the available and the newly created infrastructure at HVF and OFMK, the OFB was geared up for the speedy production of Arjun tanks. The Factory would produce 50 Arjun Tanks per year from the year 2009 onwards subject to continuous requirement of the user.

Speaking at a December 2008 seminar on the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT), Lt General Dalip Bharadwaj, director general, Mechanised Forces said the army will not place orders for Arjun beyond the 124 already on order because it is "now looking 20 years ahead and wants a futuristic MBT". His predecessor, Lt General (retd.) K.D.S. Shekhawat is blunter. "The DRDO does not want to own up, the Arjun is based on the German Army's Leopard-1 design which entered service in the mid-1960s. It outlived its life over a decade ago. Today, every tank in the world, including the Leopard-2 and T-90, have sloped turrets (to reduce the impact of a hit) but the Arjun still continues with the rectangular turret."

The Army had decided to buy no more than the 124 Arjuns under contract because it was unhappy with the tank. DRDO says Arjun had a greater power-to-weight ratio, a hydro-pneumatic suspension system for a more comfortable ride, a stable platform to fire on the move and a superior fire control system.

History of sorts was made 25 May 2009 as the Indian Army proudly equipped itself with the first Armoured Regiment of indigenously built Main Battle Tank, Arjun. The development marked the fruition of 35 years of research in self-reliance by dedicated Indian scientists against all odds. The 16 tanks (Cumulative 45 Arjun tanks) were handed over to Lt.Gen.D.Bhardwaj, DGMF, towards formation of the 1st Arjun regiment by Shri S.Chandrasekar, Addl. DGOF (AV) and flagged-off by Dr.A.Sivathanu PIllai, Chief Controller, Research & Development & Distinguished Scientist, DRDO at a function in Avadi.

The regiment of 45 tanks was subjected to a conversion training and field practice for a period of 3 months. In January 2009 plans were announced for the Indian Army to conduct 'comparative trials' in June 2009 of the indigenous Arjun and the Russian-built T-90 tank. The Army planned to conduct a comparative trial with T 90 tanks in October/November 2009 to assess the operational deployment role of the tanks. The Arjun tank was intended to be superior to T-90 tank due to its high power to weight ratio, superior fire on the move capability during day and night and excellent ride comfort. In May 2010 desert trials alongside the T-90S, the Arjun did surprisingly well. The armys Bikaner-headquartered 24 Infantry Division conducted the month-long trials in the desert in Bikaner, Suratgarh and Pokhran. A squadron of 14 Arjuns was pitted against a T-90 squadron. Both were evaluated by day and by night, comparing their abilities to move through the rugged sand-dunes; to fire accurately on the move; their ability to operate for long periods over long distances; and the fatigue they imposed on their crews.

In response, the government and the Army changed course, with Arjun production doubling to 248. Thats an improvement, but DRDO insists that a 500 vehicle order is needed to give them the volume needed to iron out all production difficulties, and provide a platform for future development.

The first batch of 124 tanks was delivered by March 2010. By early 2013 two regiments of Main Battle Tank Arjun became proud possession of Indian Army. Indias first Arjun unit, 43 Armoured Regiment, and the second unit, 75 Armoured Regiment, was converted to the Arjun. Arjun Mark-II, developed in a record time, with about 70 improved features, had entered advanced phase of User Trials.

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