As the Arjun Mk.2 rumbles at the Pokhran field firing range (the prototype is understood to have arrived there on May 10), warming up for user trials from the first week of June, a combination of factors may have killed the tank at birth.
First, the trials in June will test the following performance parameters of the tank: acceleration, turning radius, stab performance, ergonomics, static fuel consumption, cruising fuel consumption, tilt driving. The trials will also involve firing of primary and secondary ammunition, consistency and rate of fire, firing at night using thermal imagers, and of all new equipment. The prototype does not have the mine plough as depicted in the CAD image above.
Consider the following facts:
* The Army has already begun to speak unofficially about the Arjun Mk.2 (in the coming days, you’ll see reports about this in newspapers), talking of how trials may take as long as the protracted trials on the Arjun Mk.1, including comparative trials. This only means one thing — the Army already has its mind made up, and we saw what that meant with the Mk.1. The changes the Army has asked for on the Mk.2 include several major modifications and offensive capabilities and extensive additions. This doesn’t augur well for timely delivery. According to information supplied to Parliament, the Arjun Mk.2 is to begin deliveries in 2015, costing Rs 37-crore per tank. The blacklisting of IMI, a technology partner in the programme, has only made the Army more nervous.
* The Army wants the DRDO to get on with the FMBT programme. Legacy opposition to Project Arjun has boiled down to abject disregard for anything pertaining to the programme — and perceptions that transacting on a programme that was commissioned just after the 1971 war is plainly foolish.
* As I’d indicated earlier, I can now confirm that a Russian delegation, which included officials from Uralvagonzavod and Rosoboronexport met with the a team from the Army’s Mechanised Forces at Sena Bhawan in the second week of March this year. The scheduled meeting was to present information about the T-90MS that was to be unveiled at the Defexpo show a fortnight later. The meeting was a casual one — the inviduals involved have met many times before on the expansive T-90 transactions. My sources tell me that it was conveyed at the meeting that if India chose to license-build more T-90s, the cost of transferring any additional technology would be waivered. The offer is a direct hit at the Arjun Mk.2. The upcoming trials also came up at the meeting. The Russians are understood to have offered to assist in the Indian FMBT project (and is in talks separately with DRDO about this) and that it was time to let the Arjun go.
* It is a fact that the Army has already told the Department of Defence Production that it will not expand its existing indent for 124 Arjun Mk.2s, as it does not need more heavy tanks. The Arjun Mk.2 is over 60 tons. This has been taken up even at a personal level by the Army’s DG Mechanised Forces with Minister of State for Defence, MM Pallam Raju. The DRDO has said that any order below 500 tanks (in a mix of Mk.1 and Mk.2) makes Project Arjun a dead loss. This is precisely what it is likely to be, which is why products based on the Arjun chassis (bridge-layer tank, self-propelled artillery) or Arjun turret (Tank-X) are being pushed too. A total of 248 Arjun Mk.1/2 tanks in Army service is the maximum the programme can hope for.