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By Bulbul Singh

20 Jul 08. The Indian Army is locked in a battle with Defence Research and Development Organisation [DRDO] over the acquisition of additional homegrown Arjun main battle tanks. While DRDO wants an additional order of 500 Arjun tanks to stabilize the production lines, the Indian Army is adamant that it wants no more than the previous order of 124 Arjun tanks.

A senior Indian Army official said, “The DRDO is putting pressure on the Army through the Indian defence ministry to order 500 additional Arjun tanks when the Army does not want any more.” The Arjun, produced indigenously by the DRDO since 1973 has yet to be formally inducted by the forces for combat purposes after a series of trials over the last ten years. However, the Indian Army placed an order for 124 Arjun tanks in 2000 to the state-owned tank manufacturing facility Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, even though the tank was not cleared for combat worthiness.

The 29th Report of the Indian Parliament Standing Committee on Defence, presented to Parliament on April 16, expressed shock over the poor performance of the Arjun.

The Report noted, ‘The Committee are startled to hear from a representative of the army that Arjun tanks have performed very poorly and a lot of improvements have to be made before the Army is satisfied on the Arjun tank.’.

During the winter, trials of 2007-08 the German-made power pack failed several times within a run of 1000 kilometres, in addition to several other faults reported on earlier desert trials. Though no report is available on the Desert trials of June 2008, the army’s Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMS), which gives final clearance to the tank, has still to okay the tank after the summer trials, said sources in the Indian army.

The Indian Army has not only refused to order 500 additional Arjun tanks but has again told the Indian defence ministry that the Arjun tank cannot be used for modern warfare and that they want an advanced tank for future tank warfare.

A DRDO scientist however defended the performance of the tank, alleging that the Indian Army is refusing to hold further exercises along with the T-90 and the Arjun, adding that the Army has got a ‘closed mind on the Arjun tank’.

The DRDO scientist said that an advanced version of the Arjun can be planned by the DRDO, provided the Army gives an order for an additional 500 tanks so that the production lines can be stabilized at Avadi factory.

The DRDO scientist said, “Additional money has been pumped into the Avadi complex and to put the complex to optimum use, additional orders are needed from the Indian Army, otherwise the cost of the tank would become uneconomic.”

The Indian defence ministry official said that the army should not suffer because of ‘DRDO’s misadventures.’

The DRDO scientist continued, ”The cost of the Arjun tank at around $4.5 million per tank compares well with other tanks of its kind which are priced in the range of over $5.5 million.”

The Indian Army, meanwhile placed an order for procurement of an additional 347 T-90 tanks from Russia in 2007 for $1 billion, over and above the procurement of 310 T-90 tanks contracted in 2001. Besides, the license production of 1000 T-90 tanks has also begun at the Avadi Heavy Vehicles Factory. In addition, the upgrade of 700 T-72 tanks is in progress and is likely to be completed in the next two years.

The Arjun tank, conceived in 1973, with the first prototype made in 1982, was displayed to the public only in 1995. The Arjun tank conceived in the 40 tonne category has now grown to a 50 tonne tank with a 120mm turret and has problems with its fire control system, low speed in tactical areas, engine overheating and the inability of the tank to operate in extremely hot conditions.

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