The tank modernization
The Indian armored regiment’s modernization is not as pathetic as the Indian artillery regiments, which has not seen the induction of single Howitzer gun since 1988. However, the modernization program of the armored regiments cannot be said to be satisfactory.
The Indian Army has placed its full reliance on the Russian T-90-S tanks, which are now under assembly in the Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi. However the Arjun Mk-2 has emerged as the main competitor and its developer the DRDO has been pushing for its induction in large numbers, but the Army Headquarters have been very reluctant to go whole hog with the indigenous MBT. Earlier the Army had placed orders for 124 Arjun-Mk-1 and under ministry pressure ordered another 118 Arjun Mk-2.
The Arjun Mk-2 is claimed to be better in fire power and speed than the T-90-S and the DRDO wants an order of over 500 to make its production by HVF, Avadi economical.
The Ministry of Defence has already ordered under license production of 1000 T-90-S tanks, The Army wants to have over 3500 Main Battle Tanks in its inventory, out of which the T-90-S would comprise over 1300 and over 1000 T-72s (upgraded version). The Vijayanta tanks of the fifties have already been retired. Hence the Army would have to replace them with Arjun-Mark-2 tanks. The Mark-2 tanks are expected to be delivered to Army in the beginning of 2016, by HVF Avadi.
The MoD has already cleared the order for 118 Arjun Mk-2 main battle tanks. With the 124 Arjun Mk-1 tanks and new orders for Mk-2 tanks the Indian Army will have deployed a fleet of four regiments of Arjun tanks. At Defexpo-2014 the Arjun Mk-2 was displayed and was also included in the Republic Day parade. The DRDO has been pressing the MoD to tell army to accept at least 124 Mk-2 tanks but the army committed for only 118 tanks.
According to DRDO, Arjun main battle tank has been designed to Indian Army’s most stringent specification & operational conditions. Arjun MBT represents the translation of advanced design into a reliable and effective weapon system to meet the varied threats. Adopting most advanced technologies, Arjun MBT offers the troops in the battlefield, state-of-the-art tank with superior firepower, high mobility, and excellent protection. After successful completion of exhaustive automotive & firing trials, Arjun MBT, produced at HVF, was already inducted into the Services.
The modernization of ageing T-72M tanks has also been a priority with the Army to make them relevant till at least 2020. Nearly 1700 tanks are in service with the Indian Army, but their maintenance is proving to be problematic. However, considering the retirement of Vijayanta tanks, the government has decided to speed up their modernization with FCS, navigation systems, night systems, radios and other efficient systems.
There has also been problem with the maintenance of ammunition stocks. As far as upgrades are concerned, systems used on T-90s like the night sights, digital control harness, better fire control system and improved Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) capabilities are to be implanted on the T-72s. The modernization of T-72 tanks has added to the weight, which is proving to be problematic. As far as ammunitions are concerned they are being imported even after around two decades. The army did not accept the indigenously developed and produced ammunition at OFB factories which led to its import.
Though the army is relying on T-90 tanks as the backbone of the armored regiments, questions has been raised about its performance from various angles. Because of such reasons the ex-chief of the Russian Ground Forces Col Alexander Postnikov expressed his resentment with the capabilities of the T-90. He described the T-90s as the ‘17th modification of the T-72’ and commented that Russian army should buy three German Leopard instead of one T-90 at a cost of US$ 4 million. It is well known that the Russian defence ministry had stopped the acquisition of T-90 tanks because of it being very expensive.
The MoD had okayed last March an old Army plan to upgrade 600 T-90 tanks for adding new features and replacing their thermal imaging sights, navigation systems and fire control systems for which US$ 250 million has been sanctioned. The tender for upgrade has been okayed only for domestic suppliers.
The new upgraded T-90 tanks will have an air-conditioning system to be developed by DRDO. The existing thermal imaging sights, armor protection systems, and fire control systems have also been decided to be replaced. Initially India had decided to acquire 310 T-90 tanks from Russia in 2001, 190 of which were assembled in Avadi under license. In 2007 another order was placed for 330 T-90 tanks. Since the tanks were designed for Russian cold climate, in India the hot conditions in the desert of Rajasthan caused damage to its thermal imaging systems. According to an army source the Army has decided to acquire 1657 T-90 tanks by 2020. Out of this 1000 tanks will be produced by the HVF Avadi. The sources in HVF Avadi said that the Russians have not provided critical designs of some systems, hence its indigenous production is facing problems.
The DRDO has developed the explosive element with much improved protection capability at its High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL), which will be used in T-72, T-90 and the Arjun tanks. This indigenous development has saved the foreign exchange of the country. The DRDO has also developed the Active Protection Systems, which use a laser warning system and will be utilized in the Arjun Mk-2. It has been estimated that the Arjun Mk-2 with all advanced features will cost roughly Rs 35 crores and will have better features than T-90 tanks.
Since the Arjun Mk-2 will be in the 65 ton weight category, the DRDO is working on another tank project unofficially nicknamed the Karan which will be a futuristic main battle tank (FMBT) and will be much lighter tank in the category of 50 tonnes. The then Chief of DRDO Dr V K Saraswat had said that, “The idea is to reduce the weight of the tank. Developed nations such as the United States of America and Israel have been working on reducing the weights of battle tanks. Heavy weights of tanks affect their maneuverability. We are therefore looking to reduce the weight of FMBT to 50 tonnes each.”
However the Indian Army is silent over its utility in the battlefields. According to experts lighter main battle tanks can better maneuver itself and face the enemy onslaught, hence Indian Army should encourage the development of such futuristic tank which is being indigenously developed.
Though the FMBT will have German engines, the indigenously developed weapon systems and platforms will reduce the dependence on foreign suppliers. This tank also called Ex-Tank has been described as a combination of Upgraded T-72M1(Ajeya) Chassis and the State-of-the-Art Arjun MBT weapon system to provide superior firepower, better mobility and protection with lesser weight and at an affordable cost by the DRDO.