The hoopla over the approval accorded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in imminently procuring 118 indigenously developed Mk-1A Arjun main battle tanks (MBTs) for the Indian Army for Rs 8,350 crore, appears misplaced, considering the operational and logistical handicaps encasing this overweight platform.
Official sources said the MoD is poised to finalise a contract with the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) for its Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) at Avadi, near Chennai, to series build 118 upgraded Mk-1A variants. Thereafter, five MBTs would be delivered to the army 30 months later, followed by 30 MK-1As each year, till the remaining 113 platforms are handed over to complete two armoured regiments by 2025-26.
But senior Indian Army armoured corps officers told The Wire that deploying the 68.25 tonne Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)-developed Mk-1A MBT – amongst the world’s heaviest – would remain limited largely to Rajasthan’s desert region. They maintain that the MBT’s bulk and weight excluded positioning it in Punjab or adjoining areas, as its cross-country mobility was restricted by the sizeable nominal ground pressure (NGP) it exerts.
The NGP pertains to pressure exerted on the ground by the MBT during movement, and remains an operational measure of its relative un-deploy-ability in this critical region where the Indian Army has fought decisive tank battles with the Pakistan Army in 1965 and 1971, which are still analysed by militaries around the world. At 62.5 tonnes, the basic Arjun Mk1 version – of which 124 are currently in the army service – too suffers from a similar weight handicap.
Besides, the majority of bridges across Punjab were built to withstand loads averaging 50 tonnes, some 18 and 12 tonnes less than what the Mk-1As and MK1s weigh.