At the end of the 1971 war, the Indian army realized the limitations of their tank fleet in the harsh desert conditions of Rajasthan, a northwestern Indian state bordering Pakistan, so they initiated their own MBT design. The Main Battle Tank (MBT) occupies a pivotal role in the present day battle field on account of its ability to provide accurate fire power with cross country mobility, reasonable protection from conventional and nuclear threats and flexible response to changing battle situations.
In order to eliminate dependence on foreign countries for design and manufacture of Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV) and to place the country on par with super powers with regard to quality of tanks and also to eliminate completely the requirement of foreign exchange (FE) in the production of tanks, Government in May 1974 sanctioned a project for design and development of MBT by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at a total cost of Rs 15.50 crore (FE Rs 3.70 crore). The tanks were to be in service during 1985 to 2000 AD and were in replacement of existing tanks which were expected to be out-dated beyond 1985.
- The original requirement was for a 40-ton tank armed with a 105mm gun, and DRDO had to start from scratch. Midway through this process, the Army changed its requirement to a 120mm gun armed heavier tank, capable of going toe-to-toe with the American Abrams tank, which Pakistan, was thought to be about to acquire from the United States in the 1980s.
- The army thinks that the Arjun tank is cumbersome for strategic movement, i.e. to be taken from one sector to another. It is too wide and too heavy to be moved in the railway carriages in India.
- When projects, like MBT were taken up in early 80s, Indian Industry was just not ready to embark on these types of products and DRDO decided to initiate development including major components/sub-systems in-house. The delays in development of weapon systems MBT Arjun, not only has caused significant loss of revenue but also delayed the timely procurement of weapon systems from foreign sources that were needed to keep the forces fighting fit and modernized. The delays cause suspicion on the capability of DRDO in the eyes of the users, the common man and intelligentsia.
- Even after the lapse of more than 32 years, the nominated agency of DRDO could not execute the mission so far. Inordinate delay has escalated the original cost of MBT project from Rs.15.50 crore in 1974 to Rs.306 crore in 2005. Neither the execution agency of DRDO or the certifying agency Director General Quality Assurance (DGQA) took responsibility for the inordinate delay and quantity in production of MBT Arjun.
- The Arjun costs Rs.168 million while the T-90 costs around Rs.120 million. But the Arjun compares favorably with western MBTs of its class that cost Rs.170 to 240 million. The T-90 tanks are manufactured indigenously by Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) under licensed production from Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
- The case of the Main Battle Tank (MBT) illustrated the disadvantage of not having a consortium with the user as an active member. The MBT ("Arjun") project, which did not take the concurrent engineering route, took five long years in user trial, although there were no major changes in design. As many as 17 Tanks were put to near-destructive tests during this long phase of user trial. The long time taken in trials also led to considerable escalation in the product cost.
- The Arjun project was entirely financed by DRDO. The absence of physical and financial commitment on the part of the user was a contributing factor to the time and cost overrun experienced in this project. In its meeting held on 26.3.1974 the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs approved project for design and development of Main Battle Tank with an outlay of Rs. 15.50 crores. The same was enhanced to Rs.305.60 crores due to changes in the General Staff Qualitative Requirements and cost escalations caused by inflation.
As has often been the case in India, its DRDO government weapons development agency sought an entirely made in India solution, even though this would require major advances on a number of fronts for Indian industry. As has often been the case in India, the result was a long and checkered history filled with development delays, performance issues, mid-project specifications changes by India’s military, and the eventual purchase of both foreign substitutions within the project (now 58% of the tank’s cost) and foreign competitors from outside it (the T-90S).
Arjun suffered throughout its development from confusion and inexplicable delays and by imbalances between the Army, the DRDO and the bureaucracy. To critics Arjun was "more flab than brawn. More a heavyweight than a performer. A potpourri really, with a French engine, and German seals fitted into an Indian hull and turret. And transporting this heavyweight is going to be another problem, which could limit its operational performance." Arjun mounts a 120mm rifled gun deadly in lethal power but wanting in accuracy. Its performance in various trails was reported to be anything but up to the mark. Arjun was planned as an ambitious project with indigenous components and assemblies, but Arjun 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, gun and fire control.
The Army reluctantly inducted 124 tanks from 2009, after the UPA government insisted that a token number have to be ordered to keep the tank development program viable. The entire fleet came into service in 2013 when deliveries ended. The tanks are highly dependent on foreign equipment — 60% of the tank is imported.
By 2015 it was having quality problems with the fleet. The Army faced major technical issues with its 'indigenous' Arjun tanks, as a significant proportion of its fleet became inoperable and was non-serviceable due to continued maintenance problems associated with foreign components.
Arjun variants include mobile assault guns, an observation post vehicle, an air defense (gun or missile) version, a recovery vehicle, an engineer vehicle, and bridgelayers. New bridge-layers and recovery vehicles were necessary, given the Arjun's substantial weight increase over the T-72M1 series.
Defense Industryy Daily noted that "As has often been the case in India, its DRDO government weapons development agency sought an entirely made in India solution, even though this would require major advances on a number of fronts for Indian industry. As has often been the case in India, the result was a long and checkered history filled with development delays, performance issues, mid-project specifications changes by India’s military, and the eventual purchase of both foreign substitutions within the project (now 58% of the tank’s cost) and foreign competitors from outside it (the T-90S)."
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