Although “Make in India” has been the central motif of the on-going Defexpo 2020 in Lucknow, the army continues to block further purchases of the Arjun main battle tank (MBT), years after it has met all the army’s ever-increasing demands.
With the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) awaiting a long-cleared order for 118 Arjun MBTs, the ministry of defence (MoD) instead asked the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) last November to build 464 Russian-origin T-90S tanks at the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi (HVF). With each T-90 costing about Rs 28 crore, the order is worth an estimated Rs 13,000 crore.
The army continues to block the indigenous Arjun tank even though, in a comparative trial the army conducted in the Rajasthan desert in March 2010, the Arjun proved itself equal to, or better than, the Russian T-90.
In the trial, one squadron (14 tanks) of Arjuns was pitted against an equal number of T-90s. Top army generals who witnessed the trial admitted the Arjun performed superbly. Whether driving cross-country over rugged sand dunes; or accurately hitting targets with its powerful main gun; the Arjun established it was a tank to reckon with.
Yet, the army refused to order more Arjun tanks, beyond the 124 it had already inducted into service. Army insiders say there is an ingrained belief that Russian tanks are better than Indian ones. However, it was officially stated that the 62.5-tonne Arjun was too heavy for roads and bridges along the Pakistan border, and too wide to be transported by train.
Under pressure from the MoD to order another 118 Arjuns, the army then demanded several capability enhancements in the tank to make it more effective. At a meeting of the MoD-led Arjun Steering Committee in 2010, the army demanded an improved version of the tank, which would be called the Arjun Mark 2.
The Arjun Mark 2 was required to have 83 capability enhancements, including 15 major and 68 minor changes. Incredibly, given the army’s complaint that the tank was too heavy, the new enhancements would make the tank heavier by another 6 tonnes.
These included the fitment on the tank of mine ploughs (1.6 tonnes extra), explosive reactive armour (1.5 tonnes), suspension improvements (one tonne) and another two tonnes in other areas. Having complained earlier that a 62.5 tonne Arjun tank was too heavy, the army signed off on a six-tonne weight increase to 68.5 tonnes.