Armor: Arjun Goes Gold

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September 7, 2011: The Indian Ministry of Defense recently revealed that the new version of its locally built tank, the Arjun Mk 2, would enter service in 2015, and cost $8 million. This would make it the most expensive tank in the world. The improvements over the current Mk 1 make the Mk 2 about as capable as the most current versions of the M-1, Leopard or Merkava. Most importantly, some 90 percent of the Mk 2 components will be made in India. But there’s more to Arjun than that.

It was only last May that the first regiment (battalion) of locally designed and built Arjun tanks entered service with the Indian Army. This came 18 months after competitive tests between the Indian designed Arjun and Russian T-90 tank showed that the Arjun Mk 1 was superior. That resulted in an order for another 124 Arjuns. The Indian Army had been compelled (by pro-Arjun politicians) to conduct field tests 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 was 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 then, the Arjun was considered an expensive and embarrassing failure. Development of the Arjun began in the 1980s, and until five 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 ordered 128 Arjun Mk 1s (for equipping the 140th Armored Brigade). These are still being delivered. The 2010 test results put renewed pressure on the army to buy more Arjuns. Last year’s tests imply that the Arjun has really fixed all the problems it was having with its electronics (mainly 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, two years ago, 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.

Five 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 a fallback 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 9.6 meters (31 feet) long, 3.77 meters (12.4 feet wide) and 2.27 meters (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, 11.25 meters /34.9 feet long and 4.1 meters/12.7 feet wide).

 


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