EXCLUSIVE: DRDO's statement calling for government intervention to save MBT Arjun

With the MBT Arjun programme in its death throes as it were, a very rattled DRDO is trying to put up a brave face, not least because the current DRDO chief Manthiram Natarajan is considered the father and patron saint of the programme. DRDO has prepared a brief statement on the programme that it plans to make available shortly to anyone at the Ministry or the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence who cares to listen. LiveFist has procured a copy of DRDO's statement. I will be doing a half-hour special report on Arjun this week on Headlines Today (will post the accurate timing here when I'm back in Delhi :)) Oh, here's DRDO's statement in full:

The project on development of MBT Arjun was initially sanctioned in May 1974 at a cost of Rs.15.50 crore with a PDC (probable date of completion) of 10 years. Time and cost have undergone revision on 3 occasions (in 1980, 1987 and 2000). The reasons for revision in cost and time are; major changes in qualitative requirements, developmental delays for new systems/technologies, delay in import of sub-system due to import embargoes, increase in number of prototypes, difficulties in organising for field evaluation etc. The final cost at the time of closure of the project in Mar 1995 was Rs.305.60 Crores. The development of tanks of similar capabilities in a foreign country will cost 10 times the development cost what we have incurred in India.

Some of the state-of-the-art technologies incorporated in the ‘Arjun’ are modern integrated fire control system with Fire Control Computer and MRS, Hydro-pneumatic suspension, Kanchan Armour, highly lethal and accurate FSAPDS (fin-stabilised armour piercing discarding sabot) ammunition and NBC protection.

The major imported systems in the tank are the powerpack and gun control system from Germany and Delft-SAGEM gunner’s main sight from OIP Belgium. The percentage of import content is 60% in the first lot of 124 tanks to be productionised, which will be reduced to under 45% with the manufacture of first 200 tanks and under 30% with the manufacture of about 500 tanks.

‘Arjun’ is a proven tank as far as DRDO is concerned. The tank has been cleared after taking approval of the Army. The DRDO and Army have drawn a Joint Action Plan and as per which the improvements have been incorporated in the production tanks.

The major deficiencies noted by the users during the trials were ammunition and low life of Hydro pneumatic suspension, road wheels, dust extractor & radiator fan blades. These have been systematically attended to and the performance of the tank during the Summer Trials confirmed to the laid down GSQR.

T-90S and MBT Arjun tanks are of different class. Both the tanks have their own special features. In MBT Arjun, we have more power to weight ratio, hydro-pneumatic suspension for better ride comfort and a stable platform to fire on the move, better quality class of Gun Control System and Fire Control System etc. Missile firing capability of Arjun was demonstrated. T-90S tank has missile firing capability and lower silhouette. Tanks of both the class are required by the Indian Army.

The present cost of MBT Arjun is Rs.16.80 crore and the cost of T-90 is around Rs.12.00 crore. The cost of Arjun compares favourably with contemporary Western MBTs of its class, costing in the range of Rs 17 to 24 crore.

Army has cleared MBT Arjun for production and has placed an indent on 30 March 2000 for manufacture of 124 Arjun tanks, by 2009 for 2 Regiments. Bulk production of MBT Arjun has commenced. First batch of five Arjun production tanks manufactured at Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF), Avadi were handed over by RM to COAS at HVF on 07 Aug 2004. Till date a total of 64 tanks have already been developed at the Defence PSU and 14 have been delivered for evaluation. The remaining 60 would be delivered by 2009 after due JRI. Now, it is time to think of next set of orders from Army on MBT-Arjun.

MBT Arjun is strategically a very competent armoured vehicle. It has an excellent weight to power ratio, good mobility and very accurate firepower, which confirm to the QRs as laid down by the Army. It compares excellently with all the heavy class of tanks available across the world. It can be effectively deployed in most of the border areas of our country.

Teething problems during the process of productionisation are inevitable. The process of TOT for the MBT will mature and stabilize only after 200 to 300 tanks have been actually produced by the production agency. Hence, we need to have patronage from the government and Army in terms of more orders for our indigenous MBT-Arjun. If the army does not place further orders for Arjun we cannot even amortize the infrastructural investments made by the government for its productionisation, thereby resulting in wasteful expenditure. The Army should place orders for additional 300 tanks before we can break even.

DRDO is working on the development of the futuristic Mark II MBT with suitable technological upgrades, which can be introduced later after completion of production of atleast 500 tanks of the present version. DRDO has tacit knowledge in this area of Combat Vehicle Engineering and possesses full competence in developing futuristic combat vehicles. Any battle tank has a service life of 30 years and goes through technology up gradation progressively. Since MBT-Arjun is an indigenous tank it is all the more easier to bring upgrades and in our opinion the MBT-Arjun will be a viable platform for the futuristic use as well.

Five phases of accelerated user cum reliability trials (AVCRT) of MBT Arjun have been completed. Two tanks have covered more than 5000 km and fired 500 EFC each both in winter, and summer of 2008 at Pokhran and MFFR ranges Rajasthan. Initial teething troubles in transmission and firing have been overcome in the last two phases successfully and the performance and reliability of the tanks are very satisfactory.

The comparative trials of MBT-Arjun and T-90 can be pursued but should not be linked with placement of further orders for MBT. Govt should intervene at this stage and ensure that our indigenous efforts in this direction are appropriately rewarded. MBT Arjun today remains a contemporary battle tank and by far superior to T-54, T-55, and T-72 tanks that the Army has been using over the years.

Read Ajai Shukla's post on the T-90 scandal here.

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