April 1, 2010: The Indian Army was recently compelled to conduct a field test between the domestically designed (and largely rejected) Arjun tank, and the Russian T-90 (now considered the army's primary tank). Fourteen of each tank were used, and the results were classified. But journalists had no trouble getting unofficial reports that the Arjun managed to best the T-90 in tests of mobility, endurance and gunnery. This was unusual because, until now, the Arjun was considered an expensive and embarrassing failure. Development of the Arjun began in the 1980s, and until four years ago, the army had received only five of them, for evaluation purposes. The evaluation did not go well. Originally, the Arjun was to have replaced thousands of Russian tanks, but after so many delays, the army only reluctantly accepted 128 Arjuns (equipping the 140th Armored Brigade). If the new test reports are to be believed, there will be renewed pressure on the army to buy more Arjuns. This pits the Defense Ministry weapons development and procurement bureaucrats against the generals.
All this assumes that the Arjun has really fixed all the problems it was having with its electronics. In this case, it was the fire control system. But Arjun has also had problems with its engine, and that fact that its size and weight prevents it from being used with current tank transporters.
Meanwhile, last year, an Indian factory delivered the first ten (of a thousand) T-90 tanks to the Indian Army. The Russian designed armored vehicles are being built in India under license. Many of the components are Indian made, and some of the electronics are imported from Western suppliers. The Indian made T-90s cost about $3 million each. India has already bought 700 Russian made T-90 tanks, at a cost of $3.5 million each.
Four years ago, India adopted the Russian T-90 as its new main battle tank. By 2020, India will have 2,000 upgraded T-72s, over 1,500 T-90s, and few hundred other tanks (including a few Arjuns). This will be the most powerful armored force in Eurasia, unless China moves ahead with upgrades to its tank force. The border between China and India is high in the Himalayan mountains, which is not good tank country. India's tank force is mainly for use against Pakistan.
The T-90 is a highly evolved T-72. Originally, the T-90 was done as a fall-back design. The T-80 was supposed to be the successor to the T-72. But like the T-62 and T-64 before it, the T-80 didn't quite work out as planned. So the T-72, with a much improved turret and all manner of gadgets, was trotted out as the T-90. Weighting 47 tons, it's 23 feet long, 11 feet wide and 7.5 feet high. Same package, better contents. And with well trained crews, it can be deadly. The Arjun is a larger vehicle (59 tons, 34.9 feet long and 12.7 feet wide).