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Born-again Arjun raring for battlefield

At a firing point of the Defence Research & Development Organisation’s 114-year-old Proof and Experimental Establishment...

Written by Kartyk Venkatraman | Chandipur-on-sea(orissa) |
March 1, 2009 5:21:55 am

The much-derided tank has been fitted with new features and has come out with flying colours during trials

At a firing point of the Defence Research & Development Organisation’s (DRDO) 114-year-old Proof and Experimental Establishment (PXE) — a strip of secluded beach in Chandipur — the Nakul tank with the MBT Arjun’s turret and the Russian T-72’s chassis readies to fire its 120-mm cannon to test target-grouping and ammunition. Several thundering rounds later,DRDO scientists are back in the lab to analyse. The result: satisfactory.

Envisioned as India’s first indigenous Main Battle Tank (MBT) in 1972 following the ‘71 Indo-Pak war,Arjun has been in the line of fire for under-performance from the Army over the past decade. Now,scientists at the proof-testing PXE in Chandipur and main developer Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) in Avadi,Tamil Nadu are upbeat about Arjun’s performance before it takes on the Russian T-90 in comparative trials this summer.

Maj Gen Anup Malhotra,director,PXE,said much of the “teething troubles” of the Arjun have been overcome. “Over the past year,we have been testing the barrel,recoil and breech of the Arjun’s firing mechanism,as well as the ammunition. Between 60-70 barrels have been tested here. The tests are satisfactory,and we will be sending the results to the CVRDE,which is developing the tank. If the Army has objected in the past on certain aspects,they are correct in doing so. If they want to evaluate,it is a good sign. Better now than in battle,” Malhotra said.

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CVRDE associate director R Jayakumar said the only common feature between Nakul and the current version of the Arjun is the barrel. “The rest of the turret has been revamped,including the gun control and fire control. Also,as a proactive measure,we will incorporate 12 futuristic technology systems include automatic target tracking,defensive aids,laser warning,tank simulator systems and also automate target tracking,” Jayakumar told The Indian Express.

DRDO officials say the upcoming comparative trials would decide the operational role of the Arjun,such as “strike” and “shock-and-awe”. The T-90 weighs less than 50 tonnes,while the Arjun weighs 58.5 tonnes and is comparable to the American M1A1 Abrams (67 tons),British Challenger (65),German Leopard (68) and Israeli Merkava (67). “We prefer to compare apples with apples,not apples with oranges,” Jayakumar says.

Claiming to have overcome problems including engine trouble and overheating,the DRDO wants to bid for more orders for Arjun from the Army,and is expecting new requirements from the Army. For comparative trials,tentatively scheduled in May,the CVRDE will be sending a full squadron (20) of tanks.

The Army had said after the 2007 winter trials that the Arjun had “failed” in several parameters. Following trials in 2008 summer,the Army’s evaluation of the Arjun has changed,says Jayakumar. “The tanks covered 8,000 km and over 800 rounds were fired during the latest trials without any hitches.”

“It is a misconception that the Arjun has overshot its budget. Till November 1985,only Rs 15 crore were allocated for competence-building and technology. Based on the results,the project was sanctioned that year and an additional Rs 305 crore were allocated. In March 2000,we got the go-ahead to begin production and delivered 15 prototypes for evaluation,” Jayakumar says.

Malhotra adds initial order of 124 Arjuns should not be seen as a cap on acquisition. “The comparative trials would dictate the number of Arjun tanks acquired by the Army in the future.”

The Army continues to be guarded on the issue. “We’re neither categorically accepting or rejecting the Arjun MBT. Any comment will be made after the trials this summer,” said Group Captain R K Das,CPRO (MoD) Kolkata.

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