Arjun's Demons To Rest?

Contrary to what reports in the newspapers and television have reflected, the Arjun MBT programme has actually found a voice of unlikely support in the 14th and 15th Reports of the Standing Committee on Defence. And I say unlikely, because, there has never been place for a degree of openness in the observations it has made previously on the programme. Now stubborn apologists (like Frontier India!) and hecklers (like me!) aside, here's what the Committee had to say, along with MoD/DRDO testimony. Maybe all of this should put to rest a few rankling demons for both sides. And before you read on, remember, this is stuff taken from all sides so it's about as fair as it could get without delving into the unsuitably jargonesque:

Committee Observation: "The Committee are deeply concerned about the progress of Arjun Tank as its production schedule are going very slow. The Committee, as recommended in their earlier reports, desire that Ordnance Factory in coordination with DRDO should carry out suitable modifications in ‘Gunners main sight’ and ‘Gun control system’ of the Arjun Tank at the earliest and hand over the rectified Tanks to the Army 2007-08. The Committee also stress that time limit prescribed should not be further extended. The Committee also desire that accountability for delay in production of the Arjun Tank may be fixed".

MoD/DRDO Response: All the technical issues in the Gunner’s Main Sight and Gun Control System have been resolved. Suitable modifications have been carried out in these sub-systems on the initial five tanks of MBT Arjun by DRDO, the agency involved for conception and development of the project. After successful DRDO evaluation, five tanks have already been handed over to Army on 20th Jun 2006. Army has been invited for Joint Receipt Inspection (JRI) of Nine more tanks. The JRI is likely to commence from 1st week of February 2007. It is expected that a total of 29 MBT Arjun tanks will be ready for inspection by Army by the end of March 2007. The concern of the Committee for fixing up accountability for delays is noted. In a project of this magnitude involving design, development, manufacturing, and integration of diverse technologies, delays normally happen due to technical hitches in perfecting the technology. (Ministry of Defence OM No. H-11013/15/2006/D(Parl) dated 15.2.2007)

Committee Recommendation: The Committee note that all technical issues relating to Arjun Tank have been resolved and after successful evaluation five tanks have been handed over to Army in June 2006 and 29 MBT Arjun Tanks will be ready for inspection by Army by the end of March 2007. The Committee hope that progress of Arjun Tank will go on as per schedule and in future there will not be any technical problem in operation of Arjun Tank in any form in order to avoid frequent discussion on this matter. The Committee strongly recommend that accountability may be fixed for inordinate delay in production of MBT Arjun and the Committee may be informed about the action taken in this matter.

MoD/DRDO Testimony on What Went Wrong: In March 1974, the Government of India accorded clearance for the development of an indigenous Main Battle Tank (MBT) in order to put India on the world map along with other countries capable of mastering the technology of designing and developing their own MBTs. DRDO was nominated to execute the mission. The Chronology of Development is as under:

Development of first prototype — November 1983
Development and production of next — November 1983 to 1992
Series prototypes (12 Numbers) Development and production of Pre-Production Series — 1992 to 1995
Production of another three PPS tanks — 1995-1996
Rolling out of five Limited Series — 07 August 2004
Production (LSP) tanks Five LSP tanks handed over to 43 Armoured Regiment — February 2005

Committee: The Ministry was asked to give comparative table of production cost, features and capability of Arjun Tank with original and upgraded T-90 and T-72 Tank. The Ministry replied as under:

MoD/DRDO: MBT Arjun is a 60 tonne class battle tank with state of the art optro-electronic power-packed control system, weapon management system and high performance suspension. It is a product unique in its class specifically configured for Indian Army requirement. Unlike T-90 tank which was primarily built for Russian Armed Forces, adapted by Indian Army for certain specific roles, this T- 90 is a 50 tonne class vehicle which does not have some of the advanced features of MBT Arjun. But it is an improved system over T-72 tank. A price comparison between the two tanks, therefore, will not be in order. However, it is important to know that MBT Arjun had a cost of Rs 17.20 crore per system from the production line and is Rs 6-8 crore cheaper than its contemporary system in the west. It is understood that T-90 tank is costing approximately Rs. 12 crore and is yet to be indigenised. Some of the salient features of the three tanks are: Four men operated crew, 120 mm gun, 60 tons weight, powered by1400-1500 hp engine. And for T-90/72 tanks: three men operated crew, 125 mm gun, 50 tons weight, powered by 780-1000 hp engine. MBT Arjun firing accuracy is far superior to other two tanks. It has a second generation thermal imager and can engage targets at 2500 meters. Its 1400 hp engine ensures excellent mobility performance. It has capability to fire Laser Homing Anti Tank
(LAHAT) missile from the barrel of the gun. Only T-90 tank has such capability. MBT Arjun has good export potential in African countries due to its superior features vis-a-vis contemporary MBTs.

Committee: The Committee desired to know the reason behind the cost escalation as the original cost of MBT project was Rs. 15.50 crore in 1974 which escalated to Rs. 306 crore in 2005. The Ministry submitted the following reason:

MoD/DRDO: The original scope & requirement of 15 pre-Prod tanks was enhanced. 15 Pre-Production Series (PPS) tanks involving production cost of Rs. 110 cr. is included in the development cost. Accuracy of fire has been enhanced”.

Committee: The Ministry was asked to provide the latest status and import content in MBT Arjun. The Ministry supplied the information as under:

MoD/DRDO: Main Battle Tank Arjun is currently under production at Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi under the aegis of Ordnance Factory Board, Users have placed an indent for 124 tanks, out of which the production for the year 2005-06 is expected to be 15 Nos. The entire quantity of 124 Nos. is planned to be produced by March 2008. Power pack, Gunner’s Main Sight and Track are imported items, which work out to 58% of the cost per tank. The import content can be progressively reduced with increased production orders.

Commitee: The Ministry was again asked when the import content of the tank is 58%, how increased indigenous production can reduce import contents. The Ministry was also asked to give price comparison of Arjun Tank with T – 90 Tank. The Ministry replied as under:

MoD/DRDO: Indigenous Gunner’s Main Sight (IGMS) is an integrated gyrostabilized sight consisting of thermal imager, laser range finder, and day sight with inbuilt fire control computer for ballistic computation. This system enables the crew of the tank to engage targets under static and dynamic conditions by day and night with enhanced hit probability. Suitable indigenous power Packs are not available for application in MBT. Indigenous production of power pack through license production is feasible with enhanced production order for MBT Arjun considering the economy of scale. A project for development of indigenous power pack is planned in XI Five Year Plan. There are few vendors in the world who can manufacture gunner’s main sight. DRDO is developing indigenous gunner’s main sight. It is likely to mature and be available beyond 124 tanks. Indigenous track is in advanced stage of development. It will be available for Arjun production tanks beyond 124 Nos. Licensed production of the above items may be feasible with enhanced order quality for Arjun tanks and may result in reduction in import contents. T-90 is a forty-ton class tank. It cannot be compared with MBT Arjun in terms of lethality power and protection. The present cost of MBT Arjun is 16.80 crore. The production cost of T-90 is being ascertained from Ordnance Factory Board.

During oral evidence, on the quality of Arjun Tank, the nonofficial expert informed the Committee:

“……… I am afraid our quality control is very poor I have heard that fives tanks were presented before the media, however, when the media and other people went away, the tanks were put back in the factory because still some quality checks had to be made. The biggest problem in India in respect of defence production is quality control. If China can do it, why can we not do it ?”

MoD/DRDO: Arjun is certified by DGQA. The responsibility of Arjun certification is not with DGQA and still it is with DRDO themselves. These 124 tanks which have been ordered for production by the Army, are produced in the Ordnance Factory. We have given clearance for the Ordnance Factory to do internal QC. This is only quality control. Then, the overall AHSP, that is, Authorised Holder of the Sealed Particulars continues to be with DRDO till certain maturity level is reached in production. Now, DGQA is participating throughout in the inspection. They are not AHSP. They will become AHSP only after DRDO gives the documents to them. Then, the become the ultimate authority for the sealed particulars. Today, sealed particulars are held by DRDO. DGQA is fully involved in inspection.

After we took over the production from the DRDO first year we decided to deliver five tanks. These tanks were delivered last year. This year we are delivering 15 tanks more. Now 14 tanks which we had promised are ready. But while the tanks were handed over to the Army, they went for an extensive user trial. Now in the user trial some minor defects were noticed and these defects are being rectified one-by-one. Now the corrective actions which are required are expected to be completed by January this year. After this corrective action, further trials will take place. Now these are very small defects.

MoD/DRDO: Sir, we have driven them and for over 60,000 kms and fired more than 8,000 rounds. There was no problem. What happens is that in the gun control system, there are power amplifiers which are used in the fire control system. Some temperature settings were not properly done by the parent company. These were tucked inside. As you know, now-a-days, the deck is packaged so densely even to get access to that you have to take out the whole module. So, when this type of settings get disturbed, the rule says that one has to go through the whole qualification process again. There is no change in the design. It is a temperature re-setting which was got done. That has been rectified. Now the tanks would be there by the middle of January.

Commiteee: During oral evidence, on the problems faced by MBT Arjun during trials, the representative of the Ministry apprised the Committee:

MoD/DRDO: In the Arjun, we got into a little bit of a problem because certain temperature-setting switches were not tuned properly. They had to be returned. Yes, this was a problem of the Defence Research Scientists who have not seen that 60 degree setting was not kept at 60, but at 55 which is a normal standard of that company which supplied those parts follow. But we had in the prototype modified that for the 60. so, this had to be done. Once this got done, now we are ready. So some of these productions hiccup if they do take place in the initial phase, they should not dispirit us because whenever we do new products like that, we may face these kinds of problems.

The MBT Arjun started off with a 110 mm gun but at the point of delivery it is already featuring 120 mm gun the state-of-art. We started off a rifled gun for which there was no missile which could be pushed through that. But we have now identified that missile which can be fired through that. Similarly, we have built in certain electronic package as part of our processing, computing power within the tank which will allow us to network into the future.

MoD/DRDO: I want to tell you the roadmap of MBT Arjun as an hon/ Member had asked about this issue. I want to assure you that after these 15 tanks are tried by the Army, the DRDO will be involved only for 15 more tanks. As soon as the Ordnance Factory produces these 30 tanks, the DGQA will take over the responsibility for giving technical clearance – which DRDO is doing today – and the links will be broken. Thereafter, it will be entirely the Ordnance Factory production, and the DGQA will be responsible for its certification. Hopefully, this situation will remain till DRDO does some more research and makes a Mark II of Arjun Tank. If they decide to do that, then, again, the Government will start, but that will be only after producing 124 Tanks and not before that. We will produce 124 Tanks, as the Army has accepted and told us to
produce these Tanks. As of now all the 124 MBT Arjun production tanks is planned with M/s MTU engine integrated with M/s Renk Transmission of Germany as a power pack. The cost of MTU power pack (Engine & Transmission) was Rs. 5.2 crore, as per the last ordered price during mid-nineties. The features of MTU engine are as follows: built on modular concept, 1400 HP with V 90, 10 cylinder, turbocharged and water cooled, made of light weight aluminum alloy with built in safety features, state of art cooling system and Air cleaning system to withstand hot and desert environmental condition. T-90 Tank is fitted with 1000 hp Engine. The cost of T-90 (engine and transmission) is Rs. 2.15 crore as ascertained from Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). It is proposed to take up a project on “Development of 1500 hp Engine” in the XI Five Year Plan. Preliminary design work has already commenced.

Commitee: On the requirement of Tanks by the Army and the present position of orders received from the Army for Arjun Tank and also time schedule to deliver the same, the Ministry replied as under:

MoD/DRDO: Total requirements of Army is about 3500 tanks. Army has placed an indent for manufacture of 124 MBT Arjun. Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF) 50 Avadi, a constituent unit of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), has set up exclusively for Main Battle Tank (MBT), Arjun an assembly bay that has just started functioning. Once the activity picks up speed in this facility, HVF is confident to produce 50 Arjun tanks per year from the year 2009 onwards subject to continuous requirement by the user. T-90 tank is also being produced in the same factory under a separate production line.

Final Observations/Recommendations by the Committee: The Committee are perturbed to note that the Government of India accorded clearance for the development of an indigenous Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun in May 1974. Even after the lapse of more than 32 years, the nominated agency of DRDO could not execute the mission so far. Inordinate delay has escalated the original cost of MBT project from Rs.15.50 crore in 1974 to Rs. 306 crore in 2005. The Committee are surprised to note that neither the execution agency of DRDO or the certifying agency Director General Quality Assurance (DGQA) are taking responsibility for the inordinate delay and quantity in production of MBT Arjun. Out of 124 ordered for tanks by the users, only 15 tanks have been produced by the Heavy Vehicle Factory, Avadi.

Total requirement of Army is about 3500 Tanks. Army has placed an indent the manufacture 124 MBT Arjun and Arjun assembly has just started functioning. The Factory will produce 50 Arjun Tanks per year from the year 2009 onwards subject to continuous requirement of the user. Users should be empowered to certify the products produced by the ordnance factories. The Committee also like to be apprised how they will comply the demand of the user.

From the foregoing the Committee are very much concerned and strongly feel that over the last 40 years, DRDO has put efforts on R&D and also in manufacturing but still it has not been capable of mastering the technology to fulfil the goal of self reliance designing and developing their own MBT Arjun. It has not been able to deliver the goals of self-reliance as promised by it to the nation. It seems that DRDO can deliver successful results only when it enters into joint venture/collaboration with a reliable partner.

The Ministry of Defence should think seriously as to how to comply Arjun’s requirement in a time bound manner with the help of private Industry – joint ventureship or otherwise. The Committee, therefore, stress that DRDO must concentrate on augmenting in technological output to be ahead with the other developed countries and in order to put India on the world map capable of mastering the technology.

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