After going through delays and several rounds of improvements, can India’s indigenous main battle tank, Arjun, prove its might amid the ongoing border row with China in eastern Ladakh?
The Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT) project was initiated in the mid-1970s, but the first two regiments of the tank were inducted into the Army starting 2004. With this India joined the league of 10 countries worldwide that have designed and developed their own MBT.
The other countries that have designed and developed their own MBT are the UK, France, Germany, USA, Israel, South Korea, Russia, Japan and China.
The state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) undertook the task of developing the tank. Even with DRDO creating 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 deal worth Rs 13,400 crores.
However, it is believed that the Arjun MK I had performed better than Russian T-90s during a desert trial conducted by the Army in 2010. Among several parameters including accuracy and consistency of firepower, mobility and agility, Arjun outperformed the T-90.
In December 2014, Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India said that the benchmark fixed by the Army for the evaluation of the T-90 tank was more relaxed vis-à-vis MBT Arjun on the multiple parameters including scientific stress technique, check of lubricants/oils, System reliability, Laser range finder, the firing of armour piercing ammunition ad medium fording amongst others.
Arjun MK-I has gone through several rounds of improvements to fit the Army’s requirements. In 2018, a top Chinese military official praised the tank. Senior Colonel Liu Degang, deputy commander of the Academy which keeps a close watch on the military hardware of India, said it is “very good” and suits Indian conditions.
On the other hand, Arjun has its fair share of challenges. “The Arjun’s development period was so long that major design decisions became completely obsolete. The 105-millimeter gun, perfectly adequate in the 1970s when stacked up against the NATO-standard 105-millimeter L7 gun (the M68 in U.S. Army service), and the 115-millimeter gun of the Soviet T-62 tank, were obsolete by the early 1990s,” wrote Kyle Mizokami, a defence and national-security writer.
Now in a boost to ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has released a list of 101 defence impedimenta. This move can bring back the Arjun as a choice of a battle tank for the Indian Army.
“Arjun MBT presents a great potential to further the “Make in India” and self-reliance vision of the Government. Arjun MBT line has been lying idle since 2010-11 when the last Arjun MK-Is rolled out. Will the renewed emphasis on cutting down imports will bring a fresh lease of life to Arjun, like LCA Mk 1A and Basic Jet Trainer programs is yet to be seen,” observed an Indian Army veteran quoted by FE.
According to Brig NK Bhatia (retd), India needs to look into a new tank exclusively for mountains with modern platforms incorporated in it especially now with the ongoing Indo-China standoff. “The requirement of a tank for mountains would essentially encompass agility, mobility and manoeuvrability to facilitate rapid deployment. Mechanised/armour units would primarily be required to act as anti-armour platforms to counter enemy’s armour thrusts through the gaps in the mountainous terrain,” he asserted.
The DRDO is now making necessary modification in the Arjun Mark-II, an improved version of original MK-I after the Army asked for 93 rounds of improvements. Until it can prove its capabilities, the Army is relying on the Russian T-90 tanks and even looking at the deadly T-14 Armata.