What Now, Arjun?

The one thing I took away from my visit to the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE) and the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) is that there is a deep recognition of the past. Not an overt effort to correct perceptions – correct and wrong – but definitely one to persuade that the past is just that – the past.

While I was at Avadi, nine production series Arjun tanks were being modified to withstand medium fording without a drop of water ingress – the global acceptability standard is 2L of water ingress, I’m told. The nine tanks were being repainted and will soon be road-transported to Bikaner where they will join the other five tanks. These fifteen tanks will be put through “accelerated usage cum reliability trials” by the 43rd Armoured Regiment at the Mahajan Field Firing Range (MFFR) later this month or early next month.

For the CVRDE and HVF, these trials – which come after comparitive trials against T-90 and T-72 were axed at the last minute – are being seen as do or die for the programme beyond the 124 unit indent that the Army has placed. I can tell you – considering the luck that the Arjun has had thus far as far as performance during trials is concerned (a lethal mix of ill-timed technical glitches and a healthy dose of bad luck), sleepless nights best describes the atmosphere at Avadi. The MBT Arjun complex, a very impressive production facility with no expense spared, hinges on the continuity of orders that the Army will only begin thinking about after 124 tanks are inducted and in use.

As Ajai Shukla rightly said after his visit to facility recently, for all that the past has thrown up – truly enough – the present is a different picture. If all accounts are to be believed, the Arjun has well and truly turned the corner. But here’s the clincher – will the Army feel the same? Surely the Army can’t be called upon to induct something that doesn’t suit its requirements just because it’s an indigenous effort. But that’s precisely the point – scientists at Avadi are sure – absolutely positive as a matter of fact – that all problems with MBT Arjun have been, finally, ironed out. Whether it was temperature settings or leakages in the hydro-pneumatic suspension assemblies, or glitches in the laser range finder or the tracks: they’ve all, apparently, been sorted out. I say “apparently” only because no matter how well the Arjun performs within the confines of a controlled test facility, what finally matters is whether things will go smoothly during the very rigorous upcoming set of trials outside Bikaner. Will the Arjun be blessed like it never has before?I drove the Arjun (No.24) for a little under two hours at the little test range near the HVF. To be honest, I don’t know very much about tanks – and therefore learnt a great deal during the two days that I was there. The driving part was purely a joy ride, I have to admit, though it was a supreme experience. I couldn’t deny the passion that everyone associated with the programme now has on hold while the trials begin.

The one comfort in all of this – if the Arjun’s time has come, we will know very, very soon.

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