The performance of Arjun tanks and the intricacies surrounding their induction into service have been subjects of extensive debate. Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that these tanks excel in multiple areas such as firepower, mobility, protection, and crew comfort. However, the weight of the Arjun tank remains a contentious issue.
Addressing the Challenges in Arjun Tank Manufacturing
The Arjun tank manufacturing project reveals certain challenges that necessitate a close collaboration between the end-user, DRDO, and manufacturing agencies. This article offers a balanced perspective while proposing a more efficient model for advancing our ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative.
The Arjun Tank: A Much-Awaited Acquisition
The Defense Acquisition Council’s approval to revalidate the long-anticipated Acceptance of Necessity (AON) for procuring 118 indigenously developed Mk-1A Arjun Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) marked a significant event on February 14, 2021. During this ceremony, the Prime Minister ceremoniously handed over the tank to the Chief of the Army Staff, drawing interesting comments from various sections of the media.
These comments ranged from questioning the wisdom of procurement, considering operational and logistical constraints, and the substantial expenditure involved, to acknowledging the tank’s potency. However, it was also suggested that this might be the last order – a seemingly contradictory statement that, ironically, contains elements of truth.
The Indian Army’s Quest for a Cutting-Edge MBT
The journey of the Indian Army in pursuit of a state-of-the-art Main Battle Tank has been marked by a series of significant upgrades. These upgrades, driven by user aspirations and technological advancements, have transformed the MBT from its initial alignment with the Russian T-72 to a configuration closely adhering to Western principles. However, this transformation has left operational gaps in the Indian context.
As it stands today, the Arjun tank excels in aspects such as firepower, mobility, protection, crew comfort, and survivability. These attributes have received validation and approval from numerous defense experts.
Nevertheless, these achievements come at the cost of operational and strategic mobility, severely affecting deployability and limiting its use to specific terrains due to its weight, initially estimated at around 48 tonnes but burdened with an additional 20 tonnes.
Despite its strengths, the Arjun MBT is not positioned to replace any existing tank fleet, such as the T-72 or T-90. Criticism also extends to issues of sustainability and cost.
Evaluating the Evolution of the Arjun Tank
The critical question arises: why has the indigenously developed platform assumed its current form? Has the user’s aspiration for enhanced protection in line with Western MBTs, while retaining a focus on mobility and speed akin to Russian platforms, led to this configuration?
Or, has the DRDO incrementally added features, inadvertently compromising weight parameters? The responsibility is shared by both parties. If the user has set high aspirations, the DRDO should have been transparent about the weight compromises.
Although the past cannot be undone, valuable lessons have been learned. It is imperative to rethink the Indian Army’s pursuit of the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) and the Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) projects, which have made little progress in terms of Qualitative Requirements (QRs) and procurement strategies.
The Path Forward: Collaboration and Clarity
The DRDO’s credibility in designing the Arjun as a potent platform is unquestionable. Sustenance and cost-related issues can be addressed by defining the project scope from the outset.
An innovative approach adopted by the DRDO is the early identification of Design cum Development Partners or Production Agencies, promoting technology transfer and platform realization.
The user’s role involves freezing QRs promptly, as operational requirements and technology continue to evolve. Specific theater requirements should be embraced, considering operational realities.
The Success Story of Adaptability
The experiences with the Swathi Weapon Locating Radar and Akash Missile Systems demonstrate how platforms designed for plains can be adapted for deployment in higher altitudes.
Success stories boost confidence among users, scientists, and the industry, leading to enhanced parameters driven by evolving user needs and technological advancements.
Avoiding the Pitfalls
Relying on a single platform to meet all requirements, whether in plains, deserts, mountains, high altitudes, or the Rann of Kutch, poses the risk of prolonged trials, delays, unnecessary costs, and potential failure.
To prevent a repetition of the Arjun tank’s journey, stakeholders must collaborate and initiate both the Light Tank and future MBT projects with well-defined parameters, timelines, and long-term commitments to ensure sustainability.
The Power of Collaboration
The collaborative approach involving the user, DRDO, and the industry facilitates spiral development and flexibility in accommodating evolving Qualitative Parameters.
This approach benefits the services, motivates scientists to innovate further, and provides ample incentives to industry partners as projects progress.
In summary, this collaborative model represents the best strategy for the indigenous development of strategic platforms, aligning with the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat Vision.’