Sunday, August 10, 2008

Farewell to Arjun?

At the ceremony where the Rohini radar was handed over to the Indian Air Force last week, DRDO chief Manthiram Natarajan (and father of the Arjun tank) was asked by journalists about the Arjun MBT programme and the Indian Army's in-principle decision to cap orders at 124 tanks. "I have heard no such thing. I have only heard about it through the media" was his response. Well. the bringers of bad news as usual.

Delivered a deathblow by the Army last month, the dubiously prestigious Arjun main battle tank (MBT) programme is now thrashing for life. Envisaged in May 1974 as a project that would supply at least 2,000 heavy duty tanks to the Indian Army’s armoured corps, the Army cleared all doubts last week that it would stop its order at a paltry 124 tanks from the Heavy Vehicles Factory that currently makes Arjuns at Avadi outside Chennai. A formal communication to this effect will be made by the Army shortly.

Creators of the Arjun the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), now desperate from decades of fighting a chronic antagonism to the programme – not quite without reason – has appealed to the government to “intervene at this stage and ensure that our indigenous efforts in this direction are appropriately rewarded".

At the behest of DRDO chief Manthiram Natarajan – who, not coincidentally, happens to be the “Father of MBT Arjun” for his long innings with the programme – a document (posted here on LiveFist) about the programme has been circulated among Defence Minister AK Antony’s office, top Defence Ministry bureaucrats and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence.

In its appeal, the DRDO states, “The process of TOT (transfer of technology 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.”

A former Director General Mechanised Forces of the Army’s tank arm (he asked not to be named) reacted violently when I shared the contents of DRDO’s documentary appeal with him. “They have nowhere else to turn, now that their primary customer has thrown the tank back at themm," he said. "The Arjun cannot mature any further. The Army needs a futuristic tank that can serve its needs well beyond the next three decades. MBT Arjun does not come even close to fulfilling that.”

Anticipating this stand, the DRDO has included the following in its documentary appeal: “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 at least 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.”

Off the record, the Army scoffs at such a claim. The retired DGMF said, “We’ve waited more than three decades for Arjun and only met with disappointment. What makes them think that we are prepared to run the same risk again? They should understand they their delays have actually impacted combat preparedness of our frontline forces. Are they prepared to live with that?”

While the Arjun programme has indubitably had a severely bumpy development path, the blame game that festers to this day in military circles appears to be foggier than either the DRDO or the Army would have anyone believe. And now with the Army indicating that it plans to return to the drawing board for a futuristic tank that it would like to build in partnership with Russia as a progression of the Russian T-90 Bhishma tank (that the Army has unequivocally identified as its main battle tank instead of Arjun), the DRDO now propounds a theory that tank development is incremental and evolutionary -- and that building from scratch would be to deny three decades of valuable expertise in building modern battle tanks.


Mr.TaxPayer said...

Good dialog like structure of article :)

In some way, I think DRDO deserves it. If someone keeps giving promise after promise, and don't keep it, it IS difficult for the IA to trust them = even if they start fulfilling them.

But that said, all this money spent on Arjun would have gone down the drain, which is unacceptable. Only thing possible now is to accelerate this upgrade program - keep three month deadlines and show rapid and considerable progress. Put in as many technicians,engineers required.

Within a year or two the tank should be so good, it should win back the lost confidence. I know that this is Highly impossible - but DRDO has to convince its customer, government and the taxpayers..

Anonymous said...

You are after Arjun big time , Shiv...leave it and move on in life. As it is you believe in moving on quite often and quite fast in life.

Leave the past, and look ahead. Arjun has been chewed, written, raped, discussed, over a 1000 times already. So, show some maturity and look for other avenues to show your prowess.

Anonymous said...

nice article, but sad to hear about the arjun. is there no hope of reviving it? whyis the army so adamant?

Rajkumar said...

Next one on the chopping block is LCA?? What?

Anonymous said...

why is army so bitter about*t happens..if we r gonna invent( case of tot denial) something..its gonna take x amount of time. When arjun project started DRDO didnt know how to build even a jeep..
But now ..Arjun is in good shape irrespective of the delays..why army is so emotional..ruski tanks have huge problems too..but no complaints in that area..that is double standards..
hope govt intervenes and stop army from stupid joint venture with ruskis for futuristic tank..
ruskis will make us pay for R&D and later sell the tank to BRAHMOS..not not even TOT will be there..
Lets learn our lessons..don't trust on ruskis who can't even keep any promises.

Anonymous said...

Yawn !!! new put up something, otherwise people will go mad

Mr.TaxPayer said...

Indian defense arena is arguably the most active one in the world now - generating a lot of news. But even then, you cannot ask for a new post every day :)

Well if you somthing to chew on, the Navy's deal for P8 Poseidon crafts is closing fast. ALH being exported to Turkey.

Shiv, something on Indian UAV/UCAV roadmap, HSTDV testing would be greatly appreciated. India jumped 3rd gen fighters and moved from Marut to Tejas . Now, we should jump 5th gen directly to UCAVs.

Mr.TaxPayer said...

Well, think of the devil and there it is..

Anonymous said...

India is a nation of mice. We dream big, but don't have the courage and perseverance to learn from failure. Lead by the shortsighted Army of course.

The Marut story is being repeated in the Arjun, and the LCA, and you fools are dreaming of building a spaceship. You fools ain't going to build anything, because you have no faith in yourselves.

Anonymous said...

Well with that attitude you will stagnate. Dreaming and failing is much better than not dreaming at all..

Your use of "we" in the first statement and "you" in the last statement is contradic(k)tory, pleae explain..

Dr. Tarun said...

Well dreams should materialise. There is a difference in dreams and hallucinations, I see no use in being psycho about something.

mk said...

Hi Shiv
what heard about ill fated Arjun is that all the intention of indian army to kill this "Father of Abhimanyu" are going to be dashed as it has been decided on political level that this projict shall continue. RM has put his foot down and finaly Indian army has agreed to conduct the trials of Arjun tank with the much favoured tank of Army that is T 90. this trial according to sources will be held in december. In the meanwhile, intentions of Mod about continueing Arjun project shall be made public though some parliamentary instruments.

Anonymous said...

Mukesh, if you have the above info, then why dont you do a story?

Anonymous said...

who is arjuns mother???

Anonymous said...

Who is arjun's father? or is he a bastard child, like most here!!! And who is Abhimanyu?

Anonymous said...

Regarding this:

>The Marut story is being repeated in the Arjun,
>and the LCA, and you fools are dreaming of
>building a spaceship. You fools ain't going to
>build anything, because you have no faith in

I meant that if the nation lets itself be swayed, and I am not swayed, then the nation has let itself down.

My take on this is that, even if the DRDO products are not the best in the world, India should plan on fighting and being successful with these weapon systems, (perhaps by mass producing them, so we have the advantage of numbers). I know it's an unhappy road, but so many other nations have had to come up this way.

If the Arjun MBT was not good enough, then why was the army sitting on it's backside all these years and saying nothing? The Army should understand that it's an equal stakeholder in the development of Arjun. If they don't take their stakeholding seriously, the one way to make them take it seriously from now on is to make them fight with the end product. They need to realise that they can't be washing their hands off and walking away.

In India, we can't have a failed system where one fragment gets to blame another and walk away. The failure of one fragment is a failure of the whole, everyone's an equal stakeholder in building the Indian nation.

mk said...

To anon.

I have done this story on sunday which was carried by many Hindi Newspapers. But you know who knows about the story unless it appears in some "leading" english daily.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your work. I often see that often our countrymen in hindi/ regional newspapers are more nationalistic and accurate than our leading english newspapers. At least dont be like our bikau english media who take pleasure in insulting/ running down DRDO and other Govt institutions all the time.