On display at the lawns of the Parliament’s Library Building, as part of the three-day long exhibition for the lawmakers, is the massive ARJUN main battle tank (MBT), developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the Indian Army to fight adversaries along our Western border areas especially the plain and desert areas of Punjab and further South
However the reality is a bit bitter. Facing serious issues of weight, unfortunately the ARJUN tank remains largely unsuitable for being operated on border areas except for small stretches in the Barmer-Jaisalmer area.
While the battle tank’s first variant ARJUN MK I weighed 62 tonnes (and this is the one on display), the second one – or the so called next gen, ARJUN MK II weighs even more at around 68 tonnes. As none of the bridges close to border areas can carry anything more than 60 tons, the usage of ARJUN MBT to reach the border areas to fight wars remains a big question mark.
So effectively, the weight of the tank prohibits its use along most of the b0rder areas. Interestingly, a senior defence ministry official sarcastically but rightly commented, “If this tank can’t cross bridges and kill enemies on the border, who is it than aiming at?…Pakistan or the Parliament?.”
Taking note of this deficiency, defence minister Manohar Parrikar has already ordered a study (involving all the stakeholders) to bring down the weight of this tank to 55 tonnes. According to defence ministry sources, Parrikar has openly expressed his unhappiness on the issues crippling the ARJUN MBT.
While weight is a major issue, other deficiencies of MBT Arjun includes its indigenisation content and also availability of ammunition that remains miniscule. Most of the ammunition that this MBT should fire is unavailable.
Also while Parrikar is pushing the Make in India program very hard, it is unfortunate that the Arjun MkI has less than 30% of indigenisation content. In ARJUN MK II, instead of the import content going done, it has only gone up, reveal officials. Weight too has gone up to 68 tonnes, a folly DRDO has accepted during an interaction with reporters on the sidelines of the 9th Defence Expo in Goa this March.
Dr S Christopher DG, DRDO gracefully accepts that the weight of Arjun is on the higher side. “Army says there are bridges where MkII might find it difficult (to move). This is the reason why we have developed the other bridge and made our tank go over it again and again when displayed at DefExpo. We are trying to tell the army that even if we may not be able to use it as it is everywhere, there definitely can be places where it can be used,” Christopher was quoted by India Today in its online edition dated March 29.
The India Today report further noted that the history of indigenous tank building has been an acrimonious affair with the army and DRDO having bitter differences over the road ahead. While the army relies largely on the Russian-made T72 and T90 tanks, the DRDO believes it isn’t being a fair opportunity to develop its product. After a protracted struggle, 124 MkI ARJUN tanks were commissioned into the army.
Time For Some Reality Check: So while we are proud of various inventions by DRDO, BrahMos missile (jointly made with L&T) being one, issues surrounding the ARJUN MBT are serious as a huge amount of public funds have gone into it. So our suggestion to DRDO is to look at reducing the weight of this tank that has been designed to fight wars on the borders and not just be stationed on the beautiful lawns amidst the kota stoned walls of the Parliament.
This DRDO exhibition, being held at the Parliament Library Building, will display numerous state-of-the-art defence technologies, products and systems developed by various DRDO laboratories indigenously, which includes the BrahMos missile, the ‘Arjun’ main battle tank, AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning and Control System), Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher ‘Pinaka’, Remotely operated vehicle, NBC Recce Vehicle, Wheeled Armoured Platform (WHAP), Laser Ordnance Disposal System (LORDS), Varunastra Torpedo, Mobile Automatic Robotic System (MARS), Various type of Radars and other products. The Speaker of Lok Sabha Smt Sumitra Mahajan will inaugurate the three-day long exhibition on the 3rd of August at 1000hrs.
Through this exclusive exhibition, the Members of Parliament from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are expected to visit the exhibition to get a first-hand account of huge work undertaken by DRDO and their successful implementation.
During the exhibition, DRDO will also organise a virtual reality display of Arjun Main Battle Tank, BrahMos Missile, AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning and Control System) & LCA-Tejas.
Comments Received: (We shall keep updating…)
(i) Keeping the identity undisclosed as requested following is a comment received on the above story from a Retd Lt Gen of the Indian Army….”What DRDO is not telling us are the 79 modifications to be done for Mk 2 which they have not completed. Secondly, you cannot have tanks specific to only a few selected places. Thirdly weight offsets mobility, one of the pre requisites of armour in battlefield.”
(ii) Senior L&T Official: “Two points: That there are no bridges for Arjun to cross water obstacles is factually incorrect. We (L&T) have delivered class 70 bridging systems in 2003-04 and are currently delivering these systems in a serial production mode. Class 70 (means 70 ton capacity BLTs) bridging systems are supplied to Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) who in-turn mount these on tanks and supply to Army. These are 30m span bridges (good for all canals and rivulets). L&T also have orders for 75 M span Sarvatra bridging systems through BEML the same is currently under bulk production clearance. These will also start getting serially produced in couple of months.
Second point – Army cannot completely disown increasing the weight of the tank. If they ask for enhanced protection and armour gets added on in all possible areas, beyond what other contemporary tanks have, we have to understand DRDO hardly has a choice and consequently weight will increase. Indigenous content is certainly a point DRDO concedes. DRDO attempted doing everything within the house in early years and then having lost time, went shopping overseas rather than involving Indian companies….”
(Disclaimer with the last comment: L&T is jointly producing many defence equipment and systems with the DRDO)
(iii) Another senior industry official, who sought anonymity due to business interests with DRDO…”Mod/Army officials are right in saying what they have to but the fact is why has the weight increased also needs to be looked into. DRDO could have worked on some state of the srt new technology to cut the weight or provide active protection systems that would then accept lower armour thickness. DRDO certainly could have but did not do that in MBT. They probably did not do this because they wanted to get MK-I produced. If they did, probably MK-I would not have got inducted and the case would have kept getting delayed another decade.
(iv) “They are not considering the fact that if you take too much time to develop a tank, the anti-tank capability of the adversary catches up and then you have to play the catch up games. That’s what has happened here. Moreover, neither the L&T nr DRDO scientists are going to fight the battle in that rank. The user needs to have confidence in that equipment,” said another Retd General of the Indian army.