|Pakistan’s tank production effort has been crowned with unprecedented success. The manufacture of Al-Khalid tank shows Pakistan’s technical skills, her dedication and determination in trying to make the country self-sufficient in major armaments. This will eventually obviate the requirements of costly imports, which are often influenced by political and regional considerations. Manufacturing a tank is a highly complicated venture particularly when it is accomplished on a shoe-string budget and in a remarkably short period of time. Pakistan’s effort is particularly laudable when we compare it with the major project launched by India to produce her main battle tank ‘Arjun’, which is still not in production after 16 years of ‘tinkering’ and an expenditure of over $500 million. On the other hand Pakistan’s Al-Khalid tank is now in serial production, the first batch has already been handed over to the Army and is in squadron service.
India has a large manufacturing base with 39 ordnance factories employing over 550,000 workers and producing a variety of military equipment, arms and ammunition for the three services. Some of these factories she inherited at the time of independence in 1947 and others she built later with much foreign assistance from the former Soviet Union and the western democracies. India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is large as well including ground, air and sea components with a manpower strength of around 40,000 scientists and unlimited financial backing. Over and above these India has eight defence PSUs (public sector units). All these account for around Rs 15,000 crore of the annual defence consumption
According to the Journal of Military Ordnance: “After the 1971 war with Pakistan, senior Indian Officers decided that the Army needed more powerful and reliable tanks, ones that were especially suited to the harsh desert conditions on the northwestern frontier that borders on Pakistan. These conclusions led to the initiation of the MBT-80 (later Arjun) tank project in 1974.” The Army’s requirement or what is known in military jargon as the GSQR (General Staff Qualitative Requirement) in other words the official statement of the users requirement called for the development of a main battle tank weighing 52 tons or less. The Army wanted a tank capable of operating in the extremely hot, dry and sandy conditions found in Rajasthan along the Pakistan border. It wanted a more powerful 120-mm rifled main gun and also state-of-the art, meaning enhanced protection and mobility.
The first prototype of the MBT-80 tank was to be produced by 1983. This was to be followed by the production of 12 more prototypes at the rate of one tank per month. The plan was to enter serial production of the new tank by 1984. It seems the user requirements kept being modified and the Army’s Directorate General for Combat Vehicles did not even “freeze” the design until 1984. In the same year the first prototype called the “Chetek” was produced and displayed on India’s Republic Day. The following year in 1985 another prototype was produced and officially named “Arjun”. Further production slowed down forcing a major review of the entire tank programme in 1987. A year later in 1988 the first technical trials were carried out. The results were very disappointing, prompting the Army Chief to recommend the cancellation of the entire programme in 1991. The programme, however, continued with the production of more prototypes for field trials. Six were produced in 1993 and another nine in 1994.
The field trials uncovered numerous design flaws, which could only be rectified by several major design changes. After making modifications to rectify the deficiencies uncovered during field trials, the much revised design profile was “frozen” for a second time in 1996. The new design still did not meet the Army’s “diluted” requirements. Despite the Army’s reluctance the Ministry of Defence allowed limited pre-series production of 14 tanks to begin with the hope of presenting the Army with a ‘fait accompli’ and obtaining its grudging acceptance of the design. 15 pre-series production models were handed over to the Army in April 1997, almost a year behind schedule. These tanks were also tested in extensive field trials, again with unsatisfactory results.
The results of the 1997 field trials were so bad that they prompted India’s Comptroller and Auditor General to issue a scathing report in mid-1998 about the serious design flaws in the tank and to complain about a 20-fold increase in development costs. This did not deter the Ministry of Defence from placing an order for another 124 Arjun tanks in 1999. Politics and other considerations, it seems, were taking precedence over the Army’s operational requirements. This was being done while India was negotiating for the purchase of Russian T-90S tanks, which were later to be produced under licence in India. Some confusion was consequently apparent at the g