Indian armoured is one of the biggest and powerful armoured corps in the world with around 4300 tanks and 8700 armoured vehicles. Tanks and armoured vehicles can play a vital role in land warfare it was the German tanks only which helped Hitler to capture Paris and the Battle of Asal Uttar which was a turning point in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. India currently holds 5th rank in total combat Tanks strength list. Indian army operates Russian made T-72 Ajeya, T-90S “Bhisma” and T-90M tanks followed by Indian Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT).
Indian Army currently uses 124 (1 regiment -62 Tanks) Arjun Mk 1 across two regiments and 118 new improved versions Mk 1A tanks will be procured by the Indian Army in near future. Arjun is widely criticized for its weight, logistic issues, low serviceability, and timeline. In 2016 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India report said that Arjun tanks have not been operational since 2013 due to a lack of spares.
In 2017 it was reported that the DRDO had received the necessary imported spares to repair the faults that had grounded 75% of the fleet.
The Arjun tank was fielded during the Ashwamedha exercise in the deserts of Rajasthan in 2007. The army highlighted several deficiencies that included “deficient fire control system”, “inaccuracy of its guns”, “low speeds in tactical areas” and persistent “inability to operate in temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius”. In the 2007 winter trials, the Indian army deemed Arjun’s performance unsatisfactory, including at least four engine failures leading the DRDO to suggest that the unsatisfactory performance of the engine during the winter trials was due to sabotage.
All the above-mentioned problems gave this indigenous tank a tag of ‘failure’. But these problems have been rectified by DRDO and the tank improved within 2 years. This also eventually led to the development of Arjun Mk.1A and Mk2, an advanced version of the Arjun MBT.
In spite of a proven, indigenous MBT and DRDO having created capabilities within the country for the fabrication of Hull and Turret for accelerated deliveries, the Cabinet Committee on Security in 2019 approved the procurement of 464 Russian made T-90MS main battle tanks in a Rs 13,400 Cr deal.
- Arjun Mk1 the basic and first tank of this series.
- Arjun Mk1 A : A 68 tonne improved variant of Arjun Mark 1, specifically requested by the Indian Army for better firepower, protection, improved weight distribution and mobility. The number of foreign made imported components are also reduced from 63 to 59 percent with around 72 improvements and 14 major improvements.
- Arjun Mk2 – Arjun Mark II has a total of 93 upgrades, including 13 major improvements. The indigenous content was also increased to around 50%. This variant will be lighter than MK1A and will be less than 65 tonnes.
- Tank EX: Prototypes have been built for a new tank obtained by coupling a T-72 chassis and an Arjun turret.
Challenges and Criticism
Arjun Mk1 and Mk1 A are heavily criticized for their huge weight of 68 tonnes when compared to the Russian T-90 and T-72 which weight only 44-46 tonnes.
The main reason for the increase in weight is the addition of one extra crew member. Russian based tanks consist crew of 3 members i.e – Commander, Driver and Gunner whereas Arjun Tank is based on the western design which has an extra crew for loading i.e Loader, Russian tanks are autoloader.
Thus an increase in the crew count will definitely increase the overall weight of the tank. The weight of some of the most advance and proven western tanks also weights near Indian Arjun MBT :
Eg – Challenger 2 -62.5 tonnes, with a combat-ready weight of 75.0 tonnes, Leopard 2A6M – 62.5 tonnes and Abrams M1A1 – 67.5 tonnes.
Arjun is powered with a 1400 HP engine which gives it a high power to weight ratio and high mobility. The Arjun also features a hydro-pneumatic suspension. This coupled with the Arjun’s stabilization and fire control system allows the tank excellent first-hit probability against moving targets while on the move.
This can be regarded as one of the biggest problems. Logistics refers to the overall process of managing how resources are acquired, stored, and transported to their final destination.
The weight of Arjun restricts it for quick deployment, in recent times T-72 and T90 were deployed in Ladhak because of their low weight. The Arjun MBT is specially built for desert warfare in India’s western border, not for the Himalayas and hilly terrain. The Arjun tank is significantly heavier than the Soviet-legacy tanks used presently by the Indian Army, and required changes to the army’s logistics establishment, including new railroad cars to transport the bigger and heavier Arjuns this increased the cost of the whole project.
Arjun has a cannon of 120mm whereas the T90 and T72 have 125mm guns this increases the requirement of different types of ammunition and explosive rounds.
Change in the Philosophy
As mentioned earlier Arjun Tank is based on western philosophy which consists of 4 crew members whereas T-72 and T-90 are based on 3 crew Russian philosophy. This change causes a major problem for the tank operators. The training for both the types of tank is different and for a country like India which uses 4000+ tanks based on Russian philosophy, it is difficult to switch to western philosophy overnight. This will surely take time for operators to adapt to the configuration of the Arjun tank but with time and proper training, this problem will be solved in the future.
The development of the Arjun tank began in 1972 by the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) a DRDO lab and the first batch of 16 production version Arjun tanks were received in 2004 to the 43 Armoured Regiment.
Did it take around 30+ years to produce a tank that too based on different philosophies? It took time because India had no experience in this field as it was the first indigenous tank built by India. The continuous change in the requirements of the Tank with time and technology extended the aimed period for completion. The same issue was faced by the Tejas fighter jet.
The False Claim Of Indigenous
In the phase of induction around 69% and most of the parts were imported which included the engine, transmission, gun barrel, tracks, and fire control system. Due to the delay in indigenizing the required components, the supply of spares has stopped. In the absence of spare support, MBT Arjun was not operational for some time during 2013.
Later on, several parts were either replaced by indigenous systems or were co-developed with foreign firms. The tracks which were being supplied by German company Diehl are now being manufactured by L&T. 1400 HP engine is still provided by German company MTU as the setup and developing an engine for such a small number of the tank is not favored, with the increase in order an indigenous engine project can be started.
The allegations regarding the armament of Arjun MBT were recently collapsed when Tank Ex (chassis of the T-72M1 Ajeya and turret and weapon system of the Arjun) successfully test-fired the indigenously-developed Laser-Guided Anti Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) by DRDO on 22 September 2020 followed by successful trails of it from Arjun MBT on 1 October 2020 at KK Ranges.
Trials of Israeli LAHAT missiles were successful on Arjun at a long-range but were not satisfactory when tested at a close range of 500m. DRDO’s CLGM SAMHO ( Canon launched Guided Missile – Semi-active missile homing) was fired at a range of around 3 km in the test and successfully took out a target. While the missile is currently being tested from the MBT Arjun, it has been designed so that it can be fired from other platforms too. DRDO scientists said the operability of the missile from a tank is a key feature in armored warfare. The missile has the capability of engaging with the target even if it is not in the line of sight.
The questions on its rifled canons were also raised, as most of the modern tanks use a smoothbore gun. A rifled barrel has lands and grooves that cause the projectile to spin when it exits the muzzle (end of the barrel). A smooth bore has no lands and grooves. A smooth bore does not encourage the projectile to spin as a rifled barrel does.
Riffled tank guns have better accuracy than smoothbore tank guns. The use of HESH (High Explosive Squash Head) rounds which are more effective against buildings and infantry fighting vehicles as well as being able to damage other tanks without penetrating the amour is very useful in riffled guns.
The use of APFSDS (Armoured Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarded Sabot) is not that effective in rifled guns, another Armour piercing discarded sabot can be used in rifled guns which is without fins and prevent overspin of ammunition, although laser-guided ATGM is more effective against ERA (Explosive Reaction Armour).
An active protection system (APS) is a system (usually for a military application) designed to prevent line-of-sight guided anti-tank missiles/projectiles from acquiring and/or destroying a target.
APS has two types of protection systems
- Soft Kill – countermeasures consist of multispectral aerosol smoke grenades that can blind all missiles including fire and forget missiles, Electro-Optical/ Infrared (EO/IR) jammers can jam Semi-Active Command Line of Sight (SACLOS) missiles.
- Hard Kill – this measure in general physically affects the incoming warhead/missile using either blast and/or fragment action. But these systems comes at a price of an increase in weight and power constraints.
Currently, none of the Indian tanks have APS hard kill feature, new T-90MS being procured has a new APS, however, the variant India would receive will be without Arena APS. Indian tanks rely on ERA (explosive reactor armour) for their protection.
Performance Of Arjun Against T90
In March 2010 Arjun squadron (14 tanks) competed against the T-90 squadron. A Business Standard report stated that each squadron was given three tactical tasks; each involved driving across 50 kilometers of desert terrain and then shooting at a set of targets. Each tank had to fire at least ten rounds, stationary and on the move, with each hit being carefully logged. In total, each tank drove 150 km and fired between 30–50 rounds. The trials also checked the tanks’ ability to drive through water channels 5-6 deep. A Ministry of Defence press release reported that the Arjun demonstrated excellent performance under various circumstances, such as driving cross-country over rugged sand dunes, detecting, observing, and quickly engaging targets, accurately hitting targets – both stationary and moving, with pinpoint accuracy. It displayed accurate and quick target acquisition capability during day and night in all types of weather and shortest possible reaction time during combat engagements, which is about the same level as the Russian T-90, if not better.
Via — Business Standard
As part of improving the Arjun to the Mark 2 variant, DRDO is continuing to develop new technology systems for MBT Arjun, to improve performance in areas like automatic target locating, tracking, and destruction. The Arjun Mk.2 variant is being developed in coordination with and with the involvement of the Indian Army and will feature several modifications that are being sought by it.
DRDO has developed the Tank Urban Survival Kit which is a series of improvements to the Arjun intended to improve fighting ability in urban environments which includes defensive aids like laser warning, IR jammer, and aerosol smoke grenade system.
DRDO and Israeli Elbit Limited also developed a Laser Warning Control System (LWCS) for Arjun which will help in reducing the signatures of the tank in the battlefield and improve its survivability. Barracuda Camouflaging Limited a Gurgaon-based private sector with DRDO is also developing the Mobile Camouflaging System (MCS) technology to help the tank reduce the threat of interference from all types of sensors and smart munitions of the enemy in the tank’s systems.
Mobile Camouflaging System (MCS) reducing the signature of Tank
The upgrade also includes a new improved 1500 hp engine. An anti-helicopter round is under development as well.
Indian Army Armoured Corps has cleared the upgraded Arjun Mk.1A after the successful completion of final integration tests conducted in 2019 in Rajasthan. It comes with 72 improvements over Arjun Mk.1 with 14 major upgrades. Arjun Mk.1A is ready to undergo mass production at Heavy Vehicle Factory and is waiting for orders from the Indian Army.