MBT Arjun Trouble: Special team to Germany

A special team comprising personnel from the Army EME, Armoured Corps and DRDO has left for Augsburg and Hanover Germany to find just how to fix the transmission problems that put paid to MBT Arjun's low temperature accelerated usage cum reliability trials (AUCRT) in Pokhran recently. I've spoken to my sources at Avadi, and here's the update on what happened.

For starters, nobody at Avadi believes there has been any sabotage to the tanks, and I think that pretty much puts a lid on what Minister of State for Defence Production and Supply Rao Inderjit Singh said on Thursday. Arjun tank officials were completely taken aback by the Minister's statement, though they told me it was probably him reconciling himself with the unforeseen problems Arjun is facing now -- after a visit to the CVRDE and HVF last year, which included a drive in the tank (much like mine), Rao Inderjit Singh is a staunch proponent of the jinxed programme. Second, Army chief General Deepak Kapoor was at Avadi yesterday, where he has given instructions to the team take quick action and bring the remainder of the trials up to speed without further delay.

Ok, now back to what the problem really is. Of the 5,000-km of AUCRT of two production-series tanks by the 43rd Armoured Regiment, 3,000-km were conducted in below-40° conditions. Of these 3,000 , 2,000-km were conducted in Pokhran and 1,000-km at the Mahajan Field Firing Range (MFFR). The problems that have brought the AUCRT to a grinding halt had nothing to do with the Arjun's MTU engine, as has been reported expansively, but its transmission system (a.k.a. gearbox), also built by a German firm Renk AG. (Engine + Gearbox = Powerpack). One particular bearing in the gearbox failed. The German maker of the gearbox was immediately summoned, and it sent a team of engineers to Pokhran, where they proceeded to indentify the bearing failure. The possibility of low-quality sub-standard bearings in the transmission system by Renk is currently under investigation. One of the transmission systems was ad-hoc rectified by a team of Army EME engineers and HVF personnel on-site, while the other powerpack was sent back to Avadi for investigation.

The Renk gearbox that MBT Arjun uses is a complicated piece of machinery, also dated in its design -- this has added a new element of intrigue to the problems that surfaced at Pokhran. Like someone at Avadi described it: "It's like going back to your computer dealer in this day and age and saying, could you please give me a replacement Pentium-II." Either way, the bearing issue is being ironed out. It's just bizarre how much bad luck the tank has when it gets into trials. As the same source said: "Everyone is baffled. If a tank can run smoothly for thousands of kilometers, why do problems only crop up during trials?"

The warranty on the Arjun powerpack is 5,000-km, though some of the tanks have done between 7,000 and 9,000-km already. The above 40° conditions trials will take place over 2,000-km somewhere in June/July, though a decision on whether the sub-40° trials will be re-conducted will be taken after a trial cum performance report is submitted to the Army by the end of this month or early May.

As opposed to the reports that have been pouring in ever since the Parliamentary Standing Committee report came out some days ago, the recent trials saw no glitches, snags or problems with the Arjun's 120mm weapon system, the engine, hydro-pneumatic suspension or laser range finder. The devil was in the transmission system.

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