I don't think any results of trials have been as closely guarded as the ones of the Arjun tank in the Thar desert straddling this month and the last, and which ended a little over a week ago. And while the trial team's report will only be submitted in the first week of next month, I had a candid chat with an Army officer who was part of one of the trial teams, and I have to admit he's the first Army tankman I've spoken to so far who's admitted that the Army is as much to blame for the Arjun's "situation" (his word) as DRDO. I can't go into everything he said, because he's requested me not to get into the details until the trial report is in, but here's a gist of what he thinks. Remember, these's aren't facts, but a considered assessment of an officer who was part of the latest trial exercise. A lot of what he said was obvious -- stuff that's been guessed at for years, so I'll put what he said on the table -- make what you will of it. Here's a list of some of the things he shared with me:
- "The Arjun performed all its objectives to the full satisfaction of the trial team. I should point out that there was little doubt in our minds at this stage that any major issues would crop up in the platform. The Arjun has reached a level of maturity after several trial rounds, so we were quite confident that we would not encounter any developmental or serious technological issues."
- "In its current form and configuration, I think the Army has already made it very clear that the Arjun cannot be the mainstay of the armoured corps. There are several reasons for this, including some intangibles which everyone is aware of, but to be fair to the Army, there is logic to the argument that the Arjun belongs to a certain design and configuration philosophy that the Army does not want in its future tank. These trials have given deep perspective into where the Arjun fits in our battle order."
- "Although it is not definite at this stage, and may change in the course of the days ahead, several key decision-makers in the Army have in-principle agreed to the suggestion that the Arjun in its present form can occupy four tank regiments. But there is resistance to this idea from the field. The just concluded trials could support the possibility of a total of four Arjun regiments focused on desert operations."
- "The Army should share the blame also for not expediting its requirements for a future main battle tank (FMBT). There have been internal studies for years, but to this day, there is no definite picture of what our FMBT should have, look like or be capable of. So when the people at DRDO blame us for indecision and mid-stream QR changes, they do seem to have a case. As they did with Arjun."
- "The Army is quite clear. We need to close one chapter and begin another. Call it Mark-2, call it something else. But things need to move forward. It is unhealthy how things have progressed, though I can say in the last three years there appears to be a much greater empathy between the Army and DRDO about how to take things forward. Let's hope it continues."
- "Admittedly, the trials may not go a long way in resurrecting Arjun as some quarters have been led to believe, but it has been a healthy exercise and the Army is in a strong position now to use the Arjun to the best of its abilities. The tank has been given its due."