SPECIAL REPORT                                                                                                                                           FROM THE INTERNET


Adam GEIBEL has sent us an exhaustive study on
India's indigenous try at making a main Battle Tank

Relations between India and Pakistan have been in a state of simmering hostility since the 1971 War, which was characterized by some intense armour battles on both the Eastern and Western fronts.

At the end of that war, the Indian army realized the limitations of their tank fleet in the harsh desert conditions of Rajasthan (a northwestern Indian state bordering Pakistan) so they initiated their own indigenous MBT design. The first MBT-80 proof-of-concept vehicle was laid out in 1974 by the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) of the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO).

Twenty six years later the end product strongly resembles the Leopard II, though it's development process was plagued with delays and it's future is in doubt.

Based on 1971 battlefield experiences, the MBT-80 would have a locally-designed, rifled 120mm main gun, a diesel powerplant (The Indians consider turbine engines fuel guzzlers) and a computerized fire control system with a laser range finder. One of the early 'Chetek' prototypes was unveiled to the public on Indian Republic Day, 26 January 1984.

Another public rollout followed in April 1985, after which the name 'Arjun' (named after a mythical Hindu warrior prince1) became the official name. A number of prototypes (five, with an ultimate goal of 20 preproduction vehicles) undergoing technical testing were scheduled for desert trials that summer. Indian Army Chief of Staff Gen A.S. Vaidya and Dr V.S. Arunachalam (Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister) presided at the ceremony, announcing that they planned to have the Arjun in service by the end of the decade.

At the time, it was reported to have a German MTU-based 1400 HP diesel (until an indigenous one was ready), with a weight of 'about' 50 tons (actually 52, though the sketch concepts were around 40-45 tons) and a price tag of US $1.6 million (2 crore rupees, to total 15.5 crore for the whole project). The locally-developed engine, which the Indians hoped to squeeze 1300-1500 HP from, only delivered 500 with it's turbocharger fitted. However, in 1984 the DRDO was claiming that the transmission was Indian, not German. The tank's 'brains' were a modified Tank Fire Control System (TCFS), which was an upgrade project for the Vicker's Vijayanta based on the Marconi SFCS600, linked to a Barr & Stroud Tank Laser Sight and IR8 Thermal Imager.

The project was further spurred by Pakistan's announcement to fit Royal Ordnance 105mm L7 Main Guns to their Type 69 fleet in December 1985 as well as China's assistance in developing the Type-85 based P-90 (or MBT-2000) at the end of the 80's.

Meanwhile, Arjun development costs continued to rise, from October 1980 Rs. 56.55 crores to Rs 280 crores in May, 1987. The DRDO conducted the first technical trials in 1988. According to Indian Defence Minister Sharad Pawar, as of October 1991, there were 12 prototypes Arjun MBT's 'in an advanced stage of development'. General B.C. Joshi, the former Army Chief (now deceased), foresaw two Armoured Regiments of 45 Arjuns apiece, but insisted that 10 imperatives be met in 1994 before the tank could be accepted by the Army.

In 1993 the first six prototype tanks were handed over to the 43rd Cavalry Regiment for troop trials at Rajasthan's Mahajan range. Accuracy trials from mid-1994 indicated an erratic first hit ratio that ranged from 20-80%, though this was supposedly reduced to 90% during subsequent troubleshooting. At that point, the first production, Arjuns were projected to be in service by 1995.

Years of fire-power and tactical tests on the firing ranges in desert and semi-arid conditions followed, until the Indian Army considered the results 'excellent'. The Pakistani deal with the Ukraine to purchase T-80UD/T-84's announced in the fall of 1995 caused another flurry of activity in the Indian military community.

At that point, the Arjun had just failed field trials in June. More were set for August and November but observers figured that the US $ 100 million programme has progressed too far to be easily terminated.

On 9 January 1996 the Arjun was formally unveiled and cleared for mass production in a ceremony presided over by Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao2. According to Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the Indians consider the Arjun comparable to the M1A2 Abrams, Leopard 2 and Leclerc.

However, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Shankar Roy chowdhury pointed out that, while some of the tank's parameters needed to be 'further finetuned', they have enough confidence to plan Arjun variants; mobile assault guns ('self-propelled platforms' or self-propelled artillery), Observation Post Vehicle and Air Defence (Gun or Missile), recovery, engineer and bridgelayers. New bridgelayers and recovery vehicles would be necessary, given the Arjun's substantial weight increase over the T-72M1 series. Most of India's roads are in the 40 ton military classification range, save for national highways' 70 ton range.

The 59-ton (58.5 tons) 15th Variant can achieve a maximum speed of 70 kph (55 mph) and cross-country of 40 kph with it's 1400 HP powerplant. The Arjun's hydropneumatic suspension can be hardened or softened, according to the terrain and the 1610 litre fuel tank allows for a cruising range of 200 km (120 miles).

The semi-automatic transmission, hydrodynamic torque converter, retarder and integral system are local designs (The designers seek to raise local from 70 % to 80 %) . The service brake consists of a hydraulically operated high-performance brake disc that is incorporated into the final drive.

The Arjun's crew compliment is the traditional four; commander, gunner, loader and driver. There are both limitations and advantages to this arrangement that any tanker will recognize; three-man crew with autoloaders can develop a higher rate of fire for shorter periods of time, but four-men crew allow the crew to accomplish more maintenance-related tasks with less fatigue.

To insure crew survivability, production versions will have the indigenously-researched and developed Kanchan' composite armour, an automatic fire detection and suppression system, and a NBC protection system designed and built by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

It exerts a ground pressure of .84 kg/cm. square and can climb a gradient of 35 degrees (necessary for crossing Rajasthan sand dunes). Since the river-strewn Punjab area 'ditch cum bund'' defences caused innumerable problems during the 1971 War, the Arjun can cross 1.4 meters deep channels and 2.43 meter trenches.

The MRS-equipped, rifled l20 mm gun (known as Gandiva', or Arjun's Bow) is made of ESR steel and fitted with a thermal sleeve and fume extractor. It's Rate of Fire is listed as six to eight rounds. All main gun rounds use a semi-combustible cartridge case with increased energy propellant for higher muzzle velocity and greater penetration characteristics. In addition to the usual suite of rounds, an anti-helicopter round is under development as well. On-board ammo is stowed in water-tight containers (indicating possible wet-stowage).

The Arjun's fire control system includes a laser rangefinder, ballistic computer, thermal imaging night sight, stabilized panoramic sight for the tank commander, and a secondary telescopic sight. (One source had this system based on the Vijayanta's Mk 1B FCS developed by BHEL, which may have been fitted to one of the earlier prototype tanks).

The gunner's main sight consists of a daylight, thermal sight and laser rangefinder channels. The common sighting head mirror is stabilized in elevation and azimuth. The daylight sight has dual magnification while the thermal imager provides a night vision facility to the gunner and the commander.

The LRF (integral to the gunner's sight) has a range of nearly 10 km. and a Thermal Imager (which can 'see'' at around five-and-a half km, recognize a target at 3.1 km. and identify targets at 2.5 km). The Arjun Fire Control System's ability to fire on the move during the night is a major step forward for Indian armoured forces3.

The commander's panoramic sight all-round surveillance without the TC moving his eyes from the sight and also without disturbing the lay of the turret. The Field of View is stabilized with the help of a two-axis rate gyro mounted on the platform of the head mirror.

Apparently, some problems were identified since the Arjun design profile was frozen again in July 1996, which would have allowed production to commence when funding became available. However, some design elements fell far short of army specifications.

The 15 Pre-Production Series (PPS) tanks were supposed to be supplied to three armoured regiments for testing in 1996, but it wasn't until 27 August that the Defence Production and Supplies Secretary ordered them from the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi (at which point, one Indian media estimate placed the project cost at US $ 112 million or 400 million Rupees).

However, the Indian Defence Ministry's publicised cost for these 15 tanks was US $ 38.2 million (RI.62 billion).

At least one Arjun fielded by the 43rd Armoured Regiment participated in the 48th Republic Day parade on 27 January 1997. Delivery of the prototype lot was completed in April, field trials were again declared completed and series production was to start in early June '97.

However, the list of faults after twenty years of development was not encouraging. In addition to unspecified but numerous technical modifications to its fire and gun control systems (the Commanders Periscopic Sight, the Laser Warning Sight and the Muzzle Reference Sight have been found 'unreliable'), the fire control system in particular has been found unable to perform in temperatures above 42 degrees Celsius. The DRDO has been comptemplating scraping the current Arjun FCS in favour of whatever is accepted for the T-72M1 upgrade programme.

Since the Arjun extends 6cm beyond the official 3cm limit on either side of a standard Indian flatbed railcar, strategic transport would be extremely difficult. This would also require that India refurbish large sections of her rail network, as well as acquiring new rolling stock (This is nothing new, as the Germans had this problem with the ÔTiger' Mk VI in World War II). It's width and weight, Indian Rail to charge the Army over-dimensional consignment (ODC) costs, which are 150% over normal costs. The Indian Ministry of Defence allocated US$ 3.9 million (R165 million) to develop three Arjun-capable flatbed rail cars wagon by January 1999.

The German MTU MB 838 Ka-SOl 1 ,4OOhp diesel engine and transmission derated at high temperatures, with an estimated 20-25% powerloss from engine to drive sprocket while operating in desert temperatures of 45-500 Celcius. Ammunition stowage had to be reduced in order to increase engine cooling and the 15th PPS can not fire over the engine deck at 00 elevation because of the bulky cooling pack. This powerpack choice also resulted in bulges in the hull side walls.

The problems with the hydropneumatic suspension can possibly be linked to the Arjun's difficulty in climbing sand dunes and other obstacles easily, with a sharp drop in speed in its attempt to do so. Furthermore, the inert gases needed would be another item added to the supply trains.

As of mid-year, the 15th Arjun Mk I was to be the basis for the production model4. The defects noticed during the user trials of Mk.1 , including overheating of the engine in Rajasthan desert areas, had been 'by and large overcome' and certain other complaints were being addressed. CVRDE has mostly rectified the other problems in the hydro-pneumatic suspension.

Another problem in the Arjun's development was that more than half the components (FCS, engine, transmission unit, tracks, thermal sight, night sight) are imported, with the design components 1970's and 80's vintage.

Furthermore, the technology transfer agreements for the imported engine, gun control system, fire-control system had most vendors (like MTU and Holland's Oldelft, which makes the LRS 5 Fire Control System) producing components in India in a phased manner.

The production of 100 Arjun Mk.1 MBTs was expected to start by late 1997 (during the Ninth Defence Plan) at an estimated cost of US$ 2.8 million [Rs. 10 crores] each, though the Army feels that the 100-tank lot might take more than five years, given the capacity at the Avadi Heavy Vehicles Factory near Chennai and its commitments to various sectors of the armed forces. The first production tank was promised by 19985.

A later claim by DRDO stated that it needed up to (Rs 1,800 crores) to produce 120 tanks over the next five years, with each one costing US $ 4.2 million [Rs 15 crores] (about a 2,000 % increase in project cost since 1974).

Another cost estimate figured that the Arjun will be over Rs 26 billion by 2001 for two or three regiments (124 tanks), totalling around US $5.6 million (Rs 200 million) per tank. This escalating estimate does not include the cost of ammunition, spares and engineering support for the Arjun's induction into service, which is estimated at over (Rs 5 billion).

One reported Government-sanctioned figure for Arjun development and T-72M1 upgrade (with most going to the Arjun) is US $1.12 Billion (Rs 40 billion) spread out over the next three to five years.

Despite promises made by the Finance Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram, that lack of funds would not come in the way of India's defence needs, some officials were skeptical over deadlines being maintained by the production and subcontractors which might result not only in cost escalation but also affect defence preparedness. Detractors think that (baring drastic changes) the country's progressively shrinking defence budget, coupled with the persistent technical problems, would delay any serious Arjun serial production until 2002/2004.

In early August, 1997 General Shankar Roy Chowdhury, Army chief of staff, promised officers and soldiers of the 13th Armoured Regiment that the Arjun would enter production soon. Less than two months later, DRDO was shaken by the desertion of scores of military scientists and engineers lured to the more lucrative private sector, jeopardizing the success of the Arjun project.

As of 18 September, the Indian Parliament approved a $6.9 Billion (250 billion Rupee) Five-Year Defence Budget. In this 1997-2002 budget, some 40 Billion Rupees has been allocated for the Ajeya rebuild programme, and another 1 Billion Rupees for the first 100 Arjuns.

Yet BG D. R. Gole went on record in October saying that the Arjun's Fire Control System has a 20-80% First Shot hit ratio. The DRDO blamed this on the test crew from the 43rd Cavalry, whom they accused of having a mindset left-over from the T-72M1's (which cannot fire on the move). Before official acceptance, the Army wants the tank lightened, fitted with an internal APU and reactive armour.

In mid-November, DRDO chief A.P.J. Abdul Kalam told a closed-door meeting of his ministry's Parliamentary Consultative Committee that the Arjun had been tested for 20,000 km and cleared for 'limited series production'.

Before a crowd at the National Defence Academy in early December, the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ved Prakash Malik denied that Arjun's induction into the army was being delayed and added that some unspecified tests and improvements had to be carried out before the army could accept them.

By early May, 1998, the US decision to impose sanctions on India could possibly jeopardize the Arjun's further development, since some US companies were supplying elements of the main gun-sighting and fire-control systems for the Arjun tank. There was also speculation as to whether Germany would stop supplying MTU engines. Arjun Executive Board (AEB) narrowed their choices for an FCS to Thomson CSF and Elbit of Israel (which could also be used in the T-72M1 ÔRhino'). The imported components used in the Arjun rose from 27% in the 1987 Prototype to 60% in the current PPS version.

The Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the Summer 1997 trials, released in mid-1998, noted six premature transmission failures and frequent overheating of the transmission fluid, probably because the imported transmission assembly had been overloaded.

The latest estimate is that the first Arjun MBT would roll out in 2000, with 20 to 30 more manufactured per year. After the 124 Arjun I's are finished, the Arjun II would begin series manufacture.

ARJUN Mk 1 (15th Preproduction Model)

Weight 59 tons (58.5 tonnes)
Length (gun forwards) 10.19m
Width (over tracks) 3.5m
(w/ skirts) 3.85m
Height (w/o 12.7mm AAMG) 2.32m
Engine 1400 HP MTU 838 Ka 501Diesel
Transmission Semi-automatic with 4 forward and 2 reverse gears.(also reported as ZF automatic)
Fuel 1610 ltrs
Max Speed 72-70 kph (55 mph)
Cross Country Speed 40 kph
Cruising Range 200 km (120 miles)
Ground Pressure . 84 kg/cm Square
Ground Clearance .45m
Slide Slope: 60%
Climbing Gradient 35°
Trench 2.43 m (also given as 3m)
Vertical Obstacle .9m
Ford 1.4 m
Main Gun 120mm, stabalized w/ MRS (APFSDS, HE, HEAT, HESH and smoke)
12.7mm AA Gun (probably NVST)
7.62mm Coax (probably PK-T)
2 X 9 Smoke Grenade Launchers
LRF Range 10 km
Sights Thermal (Max Rng 5.5 km)
Active and Passive
Defensive Systems 'Arena' a possibilty, probable Laser Warning System