OPINION

Towards Self-reliance in Armaments

Patron Lt Gen (Retd) Sardar F S LODI looks at the induction of Al-Khalid main battle tank in the Pakistan Army.

July 20th 2001 was an important and significant day in the history of Pakistan’s defence effort when the first batch of 15 Al-Khalid main battle tanks after lengthy factory and user trials were handed over to the Pakistan Army at a simple and dignified ceremony at Taxila. The tanks were issued to the 31st Cavalry Regiment of Pakistan’s Armoured Corps. President General Pervez Musharraf was the chief guest at this historic and proud moment. He addressed the assembled guests who included cabinet ministers, high-ranking civil and military officers and the diplomatic corps. The President said that although Pakistan is a peace-loving country and has always worked for stability in the region it cannot lower its guard and must posses a deterrent force required to thwart any misadventure by its adversaries.

The President went on to say that Pakistan’s efforts for peace and stability in the region would not be at the cost of security. The government he said would provide all possible resources to ensure a strong defence for a stable Pakistan. Being a developing country, the president said, it was important for Pakistan to find cost-effective solutions and to develop indigenous manufacturing capability to meet defence needs. The Armed Forces, he said, were committed to safeguarding the frontiers of the country and were constantly engaged in preparing themselves to meet all possible threats. But wars today were fought not just by the Armed Forces. The whole nation is required to engage in economic, scientific, political and social endeavours and to promote production in all conceivable fields.

President Musharraf felt that the achievements made in the field of defence production should be noted and utilized to improve the economy and meet the development needs of the nation. Over the years, he said, the nation had made sacrifices for setting up defence production facilities and it was time now to start getting dividends. “The defence industry must diversify itself and promote export of defence equipment,” the President said. He called it an auspicious day to witness the maturity of a project conceived 10 years ago.

An amount of $20 million was spent on the indigenous development of Al-Khalid main battle tank, spread over a period of eight years. This shows the low development costs of the tank. As a comparison it must be noted that our neighbour India has invested over $500 million on its Arjun tank which is still not in production. President Musharraf noted that the highest power to weight ratio had given Al-Khalid tank an agility, which can be matched only by the German Leopard tank. Al-Khalid carries a 125mm smooth bore gun, which can destroy enemy armour at long ranges. Composite materials and explosive reactive armour provide protection to the crew against a variety of anti-tank weapons. Its ability to automatically track targets is available only in the French Leclerc tank. With Hunter Killer day-night sight and a state-of-the-art fire control system, Al-Khalid is truly a world class tank, said the President of Pakistan.

Al-Khalid main battle tank is the result of a joint development project between HIT (Heavy Industries Taxila) of Pakistan and NORINCO (North Industries Corporation) of China. It has a combat weight of 46 tons and carries a crew of three. Fitted with a 1200 HP water-cooled diesel engine, which gives it a maximum speed of 65 to 70 km an hour with acceleration from 0-32km in 10 seconds. It has a 125mm smooth bore main gun equipped with a dynamic muzzle reference system and supported by a 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and a 12.7mm remote firing anti-aircraft gun. The power to weight ratio is 26 horsepower per ton, enhancing the tank’s agility. Al-Khalid’s combat range is 400 kilometres which expands its operational range with minimum logistic support. The thermal night vision devices enable the tank crew to fight at night as well.

Chairman of Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) Lt. General Hamid Javed, himself a cavalry officer and familiar with the user requirements, said the factory has a capacity of producing 100 Al-Khalid tanks a year to meet the needs of national defence. At present, however, 50 tanks per year will be manufactured as required by the Pakistan Army. He said, if a friendly country placed an order for the tank the HIT would be able to meet the demand. General Javed pointed out that some Muslim countries had already shown keen interest in Al-Khalid tank. At present the country’s armament industries export weapons and military hardware worth $150-200 million every year. Now with indigenously produced high tech products at competitive prices, the export potential of the country should increase considerably.

Foreign military journals of repute have given Al-Khalid tank good reviews. Journal of Military Ordinance in its March 2001 issue writes. “One of the highlights of the show was the Al-Khalid main battle tank that is the result of co-operation between Pakistan and China. Fairly lightweight by Western standards at 46-tons, the Al-Khalid carries a 125mm smoothbore main gun of Chinese design. The fire control system for the main gun includes an image-stabilised dual magnification gunner’s sight, a panoramic commander’s sight, and a thermal imager. The fire control system also employs an autotracker. The vehicle carries 7.62mm co-axial and 12.7 anti-aircraft machine guns. Additionally, it is equipped with grenade launchers on each side of the turret that carry twelve smoke and four high explosive grenades.”

The journal goes on to say, “The Al-Khalid is powered by the 1,200 horsepower Ukrainian 6TDF diesel engine that generates 26-horsepower per ton. This allows the tank to reach a maximum speed of over sixty-five kilometers per hour and to accelerate from 0-32 kilometers per hour in less than ten seconds. The Al-Khalid has a maximum cruising range of 400 kilometers. Six prototypes of the Al-Khalid have been tested over the last ten years. From these six prototypes, four basic configurations have emerged.”

Jane’s Armour and Artillery journal edited by Christopher F. Foss describes the Al-Khalid tank as follows: “Layout of the tank is conventional, with the driver’s compartment in the front, turret in the centre and the power pack at the rear. The turret and hull are of all-welded steel armour construction and an additional layer of composite armour has been added over the frontal arc, to which explosive reactive armour can be added if required. Turret thickness at the front is estimated to be 600mm with the glacis/nose estimated to be 450 to 470mm. The armour is of modular design enabling the user to change the damaged modules or replace the existing models with new armour packages as the threat evolves or as new technology becomes available.”

Jane’s goes on to say. “Main armament is a 125mm smoothbore gun fitted with a thermal sleeve and a fume extractor. This can fire APFSDS (muzzle velocity 1,760 m/s), HEAT (muzzle velocity 850m/s) and HE-FRAG (muzzle velocity 950 m/s). It can also fire a laser guided projectile fitted with a HEAT warhead. The gun is fed by an automatic loader enabling the crew to be reduced to three — commander, gunner and driver.”

“The computerised fire-control system includes a bi-axis stabilised dual magnification gunners sight, bi-axis stabilised commanders sight with hunter killer capability, computer, commander’s control panel, laser range-finder, crosswind sensor, tilt sensor and angle velocity sensor. This allows the Al-Khalid tank to engage moving targets under day and night conditions. The complete power pack, which consists of the engine, transmission and cooling system, can be removed from the vehicle in 30 minutes to facilitate field replacement.”

The Hindustan Times newspaper of August 13 had this to say: “Let me begin with the Al-Khalid tank. Even a cursory look at its capabilities shows that it is an armoured corps commander’s dream. In its offensive capabilities and speed on level ground, it meets every requirement that the Indian army’s most up-to-date GSQR (General Staff Quality Requirement) for India’s MBT (Main Battle Tank) project more than a decade ago (16 years). More important, it has a fire control system that enables it to acquire and shoot at targets while moving at high speeds over rough terrain. This is something that India’s mainstay, the T-72 tanks cannot do (some are being upgraded to have this capability). The fact that all this capability has been packed in a tank with only a 1200 HP engine, means that it has an overall weight of 40 tonnes or thereabout against the Arjun’s 55 tons (Indian tank under development for the past 16 years). This will give it a lower profile than the typical MBT and make it harder to hit.”

Al-Khalid tank is an outcome of very tough efforts during the last eight years resulting in a very modern tank for the Pakistan Army, said the dynamic chairman of Heavy Industries Taxila, Lt. General Hamid Javaid. He said Al-Khalid is an ideal blend of mobility, firepower and protection and its high agility and obstacle crossing capability. The final product is the outcome of dedication and selfless devotion to duty displayed by the Chairman and his team of officers both in uniform and mufti. The nation is proud of their achievements and hold them in high esteem.

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