MBT Arjun's death knell

The Army's Directorate General of Mechanized Forces (DGMF) has pretty much institutionalized the death of Main Battle Tank Arjun. In a widely publicised two-day "international seminar" on future main battle tanks and future infantry combat vehicles that begins tomorrow and organised the Confederation of Indian Industry, the future armoured vision of the Army will be carved out, and neatly exclude Project Arjun. By now, as has been reported quite widely, the Army has officially decided not to purchase any more Arjun tanks from the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi, after the delivery of the 124 already indented for. This is not someone's opinion. It's now on paper. 124 Arjuns and no more. The blow to the programme will be a mere sidelight at the glitzy Hotel Oberoi do that ends the day after.

I spent two days at the Combat Vehicles Research & Development Establishment (CVRDE) and Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) in Avadi last September, and call tell you that this news -- that 124 will be the final figure -- will have fallen terribly hard on both agencies. For them, the future of the programme was predicated, as CVRDE director S Sundaresh told me, on a minimum order of 500 tanks.

The Army's press release says, "[At the same time they] need to crystal-gaze into the future and absorb technologies to remain relevant in the time-span of 2020-2050. This Seminar will provide the required impetus in that direction."

It further adds, "The Seminar is being organized with the aim of providing an overview to the environment of the aspirations of the Mechanised Forces and to gauge the capability of the Industry to meet these aspirations. In addition, the Seminar would also provide an insight into the emerging cutting edge technologies available in the world today and assess the scope of adapting them in the Indian context."

The press release continues: The Seminar will see a cross section of experts in the field of designing and development of armoured fighting vehicles from across the Globe including US, UK, France, Germany, Israel and Ukraine, speaking on the subject. It is imperative to nurture the domestic R&D and promote the Public Private Partnership if we are to create a powerful domestic Industrial Base for the future. In today’s global context, no one Nation can independently develop weapon platforms, and therefore, embarking on the consortia/JV route is a viable option. Our DRDO, academician and the industry will have an opportunity to network and exchange their views especially on absorbing technologies and reducing time-lines from conception to productionisation of these complex Fighting Vehicles.

Apart from the usual retinue of speakers (Army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor and DGMF Lt Gen Dalip Bharadwaj), the seminar will give the dias to notorious Arjun-baiter and former DGMF Lt Gen KDS "Dolly" Shekhawat and Brig General Yaraon Livnat of Israel's Merkava MBT programme.

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