Nearly four years after the Indian Army received clearance from the Ministry of Defence to sign up for 118 of the indigenous Arjun Mk.II main battle tank developed by the DRDO, an actual order remains acutely elusive. And it now emerges that the DRDO is virtually pleading with the Army to go ahead and place the order so it can accelerate the process of moving from tank prototype to mass production. The Army, though, says it has its reasons not to sign on the dotted line yet.
The Arjun Mk.II, an improved version of the Arjun (of which the Indian Army operates 124 tanks across two regiments), was meant to be the solution to the program’s singularly tough run of luck. Last year, Livefist reported on what was only the latest in a history of hurdles (do read for a fuller picture of the project’s troubled history) that had met the project, literally stopping it in its tracks. A new report in Parliament now throws fresh light on Project Arjun’s troubles — its capacity to fire missiles at other tanks.
While the Army is said to have approved 72 desired improvements in trials that lasted from July 2012-September 2015, the Arjun Mk.II hasn’t demonstrated the capability to fire anti-tank missiles satisfactorily yet. Troubles on this front started in 2013 when the chosen Israeli LAHAT weapon failed to meet acceptance test parameters (ATP) of the Army. The following year it was virtually dropped from consideration, with the DRDO deciding to develop an in-house anti-tank missile for the Arjun. It now turns out that the Israeli LAHAT may be back in consideration with assurances of an ‘improved’ version that can meet the Indian Army’s requirements.
The DRDO has notified Parliament that it is urging the Army to release a contractual order on the premise that the Arjun Mk.II will be production ready by 2021-22, and that the improved weapon can be retrofitted by that time. The Army isn’t enthused just yet, with sources saying they are waiting for a minimum basic missile capability demonstration before proceeding to place the order.
The re-entry of the Israeli LAHAT system into consideration is significant too and presents a dilemma to the DRDO. The LAHAT has had a shot with the Arjun and failed to perform satisfactorily, but the fact that it is still even being looked at suggests time pressures. The very fact that the DRDO itself is offering up the option of either an improved LAHAT or its own ATGM for the Arjun suggests it is wary of any further delays derailing a program that has already been postponed beyond measure and memory.
The DRDO has also officially informed Parliament that its tube-launched anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) for the Arjun Mk.II is among its sanctioned projects for the year 2017-18. The laser homing tube launched 120mm missile is expected to be ready for user trials in 2018-19.
Last year, Livefist reported on an unprecedented weight reduction exercise that had been ordered by the Army, throwing the Arjun Mk.II’s path to production plan out of gear. It was reported recently that the DRDO is fighting an expectedly losing battle on that front too.