Procurement: India Builds the Largest Tank Force in Eurasia

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December 10, 2007: India has bought another 347 Russian T-90S tanks, at a cost of $3.5 million each. India is also building another thousand T-90S tanks under license, and using many parts imported from Russia.

Last year, India adopted the Russian T-90 as its new main battle tank. There will be local production of about a thousand T-90s over the next 14 years. India already has imported 310 T-90s. Under this plan, by 2020, India will have 2,000 upgraded T-72s, over 1,500 T90s, and few hundred other tanks. 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-190 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 could be deadly.

India doesn't have to worry about facing M-1s. The main enemy is Pakistan, which has T-72s, a few T-80s and many older T-55s (the Chinese version.) Training remains a problem for the Indian army, because of rising fuel costs. Again, it's all relative, for the Pakistanis are even less able to pay for the vast quantities of fuel needed to move a tank around for training.

Currently, fuel alone costs the Indian army about a dollar per kilometer traveled by each for T-72s, and a little more for T-90s. So if you want to take a hundred T-72s out for several days of training, each vehicle is going to travel, say, 200 kilometers. That's $20,000 just for the fuel. Do that four times a year, for the entire 4,000 tank force, and you're out nearly $3 million. That's for minimal training, and many countries cannot afford even that. You can more than double the fuel cost to take care of replacement parts and repairs for accidents.

American armored vehicles cost from $15-$25 per kilometer to operate, largely because of higher personnel costs. This is why, even when poor nations get first rate tanks, they often do poorly in combat. Buying the tank, for a few million dollars each, is only a small part of the total cost of creating a competent crew to get the most out of that high tech tank.

 


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