India’s Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) on February 23 cleared the proposal for the acquisition of the indigenous Arjun MK-1A battle tanks for around Rs 8,400 crore. The question remains how will the Indian tank fare in a battle when pitted against Pakistan’s Al-Khalid and Al-Zarar?
The improved version of the Arjun tank was formally handed over by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Indian Army a week ago. The ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ was granted by the DAC to enable the Indian Army to acquire 118 Arjun Mk-1A tanks, which are said to be among the most advanced main battle tanks in the world.
The series of upgrades on the new version of the tank is believed to give it a decisive edge over all the tanks possessed by the Pakistan army.
The tank has been designed and manufactured by the Heavy Vehicle Factory of the government’s Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE), and it rolled out with around 71 improvements, which make it an entirely different beast from the Arjun Mk-1 tanks currently in service with the army.
“Of the 71, 14 are major improvements in firepower, mobility and protection,” NDTV quoted V Balamurugan, the Director of the Combat Vehicles Research & Development Establishment (CVRDE) that has designed the Arjun.
“The tank has an enhanced hunter-killer capability. The commander has a panoramic sight which, enables day-and-night surveillance with 360-degree coverage. This enables him to detect targets and engage them personally or handover the target to the gunner to prosecute.”
With a capability to carry around 39 rounds of different types of ammunition, Mk-1A is dubbed a formidable challenge for the adversary tanks. The new Arjun is armed with thermobaric shells designed as bunker-busters that can be used to target soldiers, additionally, a penetration-cum-blast round adds decisive firepower to the tank.
Other ammunition addition includes the FSAPDS (Fin Stabilised Armour Piercing Discarding Sabots) and High Explosive Squash Head (HESH), used to break the enemy tank armor.
Tamil Nadu is emerging as a tank production hub. From Tamil Nadu, the movement towards a modernised and self-reliant defence sector gets momentum. pic.twitter.com/smh3WzsAqT
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 14, 2021
However, the Mk-1A lacks the capability to fire an anti-tank missile, although missiles can be fired from the tank, a capability expected to be added soon. One significant success has been almost 53 percent indigenous content in the tank, which is a remarkable improvement from the 41 percent used on earlier models. Another noteworthy upgrade in the tank is its transmission system, which can withstand grenade and missile attacks more easily.
The Kanchan modular composite armor protects this beast from all sides from anti-tank ammunition, giving it an all-round protection. The Arjun comes with a 12.7 mm anti-aircraft machine gun, also useful for ground targets, and operated from within the crew compartment. The tank is also armed with an indigenous 120-mm caliber rifle gun and anti-personnel co-axle 7.62 mm machine gun.
Arjun Mk-1A Vs Pakistani Tanks
Pakistan’s tank inventory is more diverse and based mainly on Chinese and Ukrainian technology, some of which have been produced in collaboration with the Chinese, including Al-Khalid and Al-Zarar. The T-80UD tanks are Ukrainian, while the Type-85, 69, 59 are Chinese.
The Pakistan army fields around 2,400 MBTs grouped into around 50 armored regiments. The inventory is mainly of the Type-59/Al-Zarrar tanks, around 1,100 of them. Al Zarar is a second-generation MBT derived from Type 59 MBT, which in turn was based on the Soviet T-54A. The force also fields some 50 older T-54/T-55 MBTs.
Al-Zarrar boasts of a 125mm smoothbore gun, which is the tank’s primary armament. Then there is a 12.7mm Type 54 anti-aircraft heavy machine gun, operated from inside the turret and two 7.62mm coaxial machine guns. The tank can fire armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS), high explosive anti-tank fin-stabilized warheads (HEAT-FS), HE-FS and anti-tank guided missile rounds.
Pakistan and China came together in the 1990s to co-produce around 350 Al Khalid MBT, which is based on the Chinese Type 90-IIM tank. Around 20 upgraded Al Khalid I MBTs have also been deployed by the army. Another version, called the Al Khalid III MBT, is in development.
The modernized and latest version of the tank Al Khalid-1 was inducted into Pakistan Army in June last year and is equipped with enhanced protection against smart ammunition and other forms of top attacks.
According to the website of its manufacturer, the upgraded Al Khalid-1 has improved Muzzle Reference System, Solid State Auto Loader, Improved Radiation Detector, and independent and effective command and control system for deeper and long-distance operations.
Most importantly, the tank is capable of sustainable operations in a nuclear environment because of its life support system. Al Khalid-1 has been designed for “higher strategic and tactical mobility,” the website adds. It is also said to be capable of fighting in built-up areas or urban warfare.
Another powerful tank in the Pakistan army – T-80UD MBT, an improved variant of the Soviet-made T-64 MBT – which has been compared to India’s Arjun variants, has evolved to be a formidable machine with multiple modern upgrades. First introduced into service in the late 1990s, the country has received around 320 tanks from Ukraine between 1997 and 2002.
“Pakistan’s T-80UD tanks could be upgraded to the standards of the T-84 ‘Oplot-M’ MBT, a much-improved variant of the T-84 (which in turn is an improved version of the T-80), featuring a larger turret mounting sophisticated sensors and, among other things, a panoramic thermal-imaging system,” Franz-Stefan Gady wrote in The Diplomat.
The T-80 Main Battle Tank (MBT) was specifically designed to engage enemy armored vehicles, troops, fortifications, and low-flying helicopters regardless of the visibility factors of it being night or day in all-weather conditions.
Whether moving or stationary, the T-80’s advanced fire control system jointly with the 125mm 2A46M smoothbore main gun ensures target kill with the first-round. The T-80s have reportedly fared a lot better due to their superior turbine engine in comparison to T-72s and even T-90s in extreme cold conditions, resulting in their popularity even in today’s times.
Pakistan Army’s latest acquisition has been the Chinese-made VT-4 Main Battle Tank. The country said the tank will be deployed in an offensive role by strike formations. According to experts, VT-4 can challenge any modern tank in the world with its advanced armor protection, maneuverability, firepower capabilities, and state-of-the-art technology.
Among its most significant capabilities, the VT-4 is equipped with a 125-millimeter smoothbore gun, can fire armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot (APFSDS), high explosive anti-tank cartridges, and missiles with a 5-kilometer range.
Although both India and Pakistan are aggressively modernizing their armored platforms, it’s difficult to compare the outcome of a tank battle between the two countries. The tanks of both countries boast of potent firepower and maneuverability, with India leading Pakistan in the first factor, while preceding it in the second.
The German engines employed by the Indian tanks give them an advantage over Pakistan’s inventory which has mainly Ukrainian tanks. On the other hand, the Pakistani tanks boast of increased maneuverability and agility, which can be a decisive advantage in a close-quarter battle.
For long, the Indian Army has been complaining of the heavy structure of the Arjun tanks although no progress was made in the subsequent upgrades to reduce the tank’s weight, which could prove disadvantageous in certain war conditions.
The speed of modernization of the armored platforms can also prove decisive, including the latest upgrades, that incorporate the latest in technology and weaponry.