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Now, a tank of worms crawl out of DRDO’s Arjun
The army argue that they could not accept a tank-equivalent of PC-XT in the age of Pentium 4. This stand is portrayed as their keenness to deal with foreign arms dealers. But still Arjun tanks equipped with German technology is not with the army.
CLOSE ON the heels of the Indian Air Force (IAF) being slammed by ultra-patriotic scientists and technologists, it is now the turn of the Directorate General of Mechanised Warfare (DGMF) to get the beating from bureaucrats and politicians, batting for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The R&D behemoth, which routinely hogs media limelight for the feel-good factor involved in its ‘breakthroughs’, considers IAF as insensitive to national pride. The airmen have chosen to be ‘disloyal’ to the country and send out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to six global manufacturers for the acquisition of 126 multi-role combat aircrafts. If IAF is unpatriotic for losing faith in the ever-elusive ‘Tejas’ light combat aircraft (LCA), the Army is accused of being extremely reluctant to induct ’Arjun’ battle tanks, “successfully developed indigenously” by it. Citing that the indigenous tank has undergone extensive trials – driven over 75,000 km, fired over10,000 ammunition rounds – they claim the Arjuns have proven themselves.



The Army seems more keen on inducting foreign tanks at great cost rather than indigenous ones,” says a high profile lobbyist engaged by DRDO. The Indian Army has been obliquely accused of ’internal sabotage’ of the nationally important strategic project. Rao Inderjit Singh, the honourable minister of state in charge of defence production in the Manmohan Singh government has implied disloyalty of the combat officers from the mechanised forces of the Army, by stating, “The possibility of sabotage in the recent winter trials of the (Arjun) tanks should be examined.” The dignitary is not – as one might imagine from his authoritative note – a knowledgeable one-time military officer, well versed in tank warfare. Inderjit Singh is supposed to be a ’humble’ farmer cum lawyer and owes his position to former chief minister of Haryana and his illustrious father, Rao Birender Singh, noted as past master in the game of political disloyalty and defection. Far from being a decorated officer, he is unlikely to have attended any National Cadet Corps (NCC) drill as a student!


DRDO was assigned the work of building India’s own Main Battle Tank (MBT) in 1974. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was set on projecting herself as a formidable leader of the Indian Ocean region after her ‘triumph’ in creating Bangladesh and becoming ‘Durga’ in the eyes of gullible Indians. Just like the indigenous development of nuclear reactors and weapons undertaken by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the only achievement of DRDO in the MBT project was to give it a formidable name – Arjun! It missed deadline after deadline on targets set by itself. While the unfulfilled promises of BARC about a breakthrough in nuclear power sector being just around the corner, could be made up by setting up numerous inefficient thermal power plants, similar hollow promises by DRDO about the MBT (as well as about the LCA) did not present any such alternative to the defence services. Eventually, the organisation that has become noted for sky-high levels of nepotism, corruption and non-performance, lost any semblance of trust it had enjoyed with the Army and the IAF.


The army had to buy the T-72 tanks in late 1970s and T-90 tanks in the 1990s from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The ‘trusted friend’ of India was the monopoly supplier, enjoying good clout with top politicians and bureaucrats of New Delhi. So, the Army had to live with numerous technical glitches in these second grade tanks. Moscow sucked up billions of dollars from Indians in the guise of ‘rupee trade’, while worthies from Congress and communist parties were content with the crumbs thrown at them. In 2000, the Army was forced, despite serious deficiencies in the half baked imitations touted by DRDO, to place an order for 124 Arjun tanks. These were supposed to be manufactured by the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF) at Avadi, near Chennai and handed over by 2008-09. Even as five machines submitted after long delays to the Army for Accelerated Usage-cum-Reliability Trials (AURT) are yet to be cleared, HVF claims to have ‘almost completed’ assembly of several tanks under this order at great expense.


Reporting on the third round of AURT last winter, when the tanks miserably failed to stand up to the stringent requirements, the Army told honourable MPs, comprising of the standing committee on defence, “We (Army) have just carried out the trial in winter. The tanks have performed very poorly. There have been four engine failures so far... There has been a problem. The defence minister has been apprised by the (Army) chief... So, a lot of improvements have to be done before the Army will be satisfied with the Arjun tank.


The public relation folk of DRDO and India’s breed of armchair strategic analysts started finding fault with the Army, claiming that the DGMF systematically undermined the project. The super-brilliant scientists of DRDO went to the extent of questioning the intelligence of the Army officers. It was said that whenever they approached a technology solution, the Army would get new ideas from the latest issue of Jane’s Defence Weekly and upgrade the design goalposts! The logic of the soldiers that they could not accept a tank-equivalent of PC-XT in the age of Pentium 4 has been portrayed as their keenness to please foreign arms dealers!


Interestingly, the ‘indigenous’ Arjun is powered by a German engine and the transmission components are designed according to German technology, just like the ‘indigenous’ Tejas LCA has a General Electric power plant.In both cases, suboptimal design of the other components, awry integration of systems and too high a weight have led to the failure of proven engines.


The MPs, in their superior wisdom, have observed, “The committee, however, is startled to hear now from a representative of the Army that the Arjun tanks have performed very poorly and a lot of improvements have to be made before the Army is satisfied with the Arjun tank. It is not clear why things went wrong with the Arjun tank. In any case, the causes for the failure of the Arjun tank should be identified without loss of time...”It requires only a little bit of common sense to make the causes clear!


The netas and babus want the Army and IAF to emulate the Indian Navy and fully participate in indigenous design and development of their needs. The worthies have found fault with the soldiers for seeing “the Arjun not as a national defence project, but as a tank that they must drive into battle!” In effect, the netas are against adopting a ‘judgmental’ approach in approving indigenous items. Army Chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor has rushed to HVF as part of the stocktaking by the government, in the wake of failure of the trials. High pressure lobbying has been mounted to force the Army to somehow give grace marks and pass the Arjuns in the fourth round of AUCRT in May.


No rational person will find fault with combat officers from the mechanised forces for seeing the Arjun as a ’tank’. After all, the Army is supposed to maintain the tanks over extended periods in ‘combat-ready’ condition and can compromise on reliability only at the country’s peril. If the netas need to peddle feel-good euphoria to their illiterate vote banks, there are other areas for that. They can boast of any number of make-believe breakthroughs on other fronts – like Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles’ (ICBM), moon missions, submarine-fired nukes and such other fictitious strengths, which are never intended to be used. Any number of desk-bound, bogus scientists and technologists could be employed for that purpose. Similarly, our Navy is minuscule and has only a ceremonial presence. Even if all the allocated money is siphoned off in junks like Kitty Hawk or Admiral Gorshkov, it is not going to make much difference. But, when it comes to real military might, there can be no compromise on quality. It is heartening that the Army and IAF top brass are standing firm and not betraying their fighters. They simply cannot accept mediocre products that are even worse than Russian ones, just because they are ‘indigenous’ and can generate euphoria. Hopefully, the Army and IAF will succeed in drilling sanity into the heads of the babus and netas that manufacture of mission-critical equipment – and subsequently R&D at a later stage – are better left to be done by entities with core skills and requisite investments. They cannot be achieved just by hollow self-pride. Also, cutting edge R&D can have meaning only after high-tech manufacture is mastered.
COMMENTS (24)
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Sandeep
I do not see any connection between the subject of the matter and bringing in the father of minister of state in charge of defense production to the article. Like every Arjun trashing media journalist, you also go to say DRDO was assigned the work of building India’s own Main Battle Tank (MBT) in 1974. You do not say the year when the last GSQR was placed. And the several specified modifications that they requested. Why do you use superlatives like “super-brilliant scientists of DRDO”. Journalist like you would have avoided the sarcasms. They have show some brilliance developing the armor, the gun and the driving systems. Give them atleast some credit for that. “Army would get new ideas from the latest issue of Jane’s Defence Weekly and upgrade the design goalposts! The logic of the soldiers that they could not accept a tank-equivalent of PC-XT in the age of Pentium 4 has been portrayed as their keenness to please foreign arms dealers!”. It is for the Army to have the foresight to have the weapon that they require for future. You cannot place a current specification for a tank, which is going to be building in a span of 10-15 years and go on modifying it. Certainly there is a problem here with the Army. “Too high a weight have led to the failure of proven engines”. Arjun was using he same engine built by MTU for 15 years there was no problem within those period. Also arjun’s wait did not increase during this period. Abrams, Merkava and several tanks use the same engine. How much do you think they weight. Yes, new engines of 1500 HP are introduced, which they will not give us. So that is the basis of that argument. Virtually the argument does not stand. “lot of improvements”, “list of improvements”. If you have that much knowledge why do not you specify the list of improvements required. That is where you would have become a true Journalist. They only state one problem but say a list of problems. “High pressure lobbying has been mounted to force the Army to somehow give grace marks and pass the Arjuns in the fourth round of AUCRT in May”. I wonder if DRDO is capable for that. If that is right then, that is good news At least they should be able to match the lobbying of the Arms lobby lurking around. Only statement in favor was the statement from the minister of state in charge of defense production. And he certainly has a reason to say what he said.
Tango Charlie
This article touches upon many aspects of which I have expertise and reflects the truth on these issues. I had the opportunity view first hand many attempts by the present SA to RM to obtain a clean chit for the Arjun from the Govts. of other nations. These attempts were turned down as people in the know and experts have privately stated that the Arjun is a disaster, as are the numerous other projects of DRDO. Why else would the DRDO collaborate with the Israelis to make the LR-SAM Air defence System for the Indian Navy? All they are doing is developing the tail section for the missile (amounting to about 10% of the development effort!!). Are these are the same guys that we are trusting to come up with an Anti-Ballistic Missile Defence System? God save us. The Brahmos is another ‘success story’ waiting to be told. Perhaps the Govt. of India would like to get the Honourable CAG to look into the program and ascertain why the relatively low cost Yakhonts, now renamed the Brahmos should cost so much that the Indian Navy finds it too expensive. (despite being so used to regularly being bilked by the Russians) The LCA is the next Arjun in the making. Despite having flown 800 plus flights it is far from ready. Major design deficiencies such as the lack of sufficient stability in the yaw axis have been discovered early, but rigor mortise in the DRDO and the inability to call a 'spade a spade' has prevented a re-design of the tail. The initial version of the LCA will get the IAF an aircraft which is just about useless for combat and cannot even match up in combat with the Mig-21 it was to replace 10 years ago!
Sandeep Kumar
Till today DRDO was the wiping boy, it is not that when their wrongs need to be justified. We also need to take Army to task on this issue. It has always been a clamoring about the 35 years taken for the tank to be built. No one talks when the last GSQR was placed. Arjun MBT is entirely based on Western concepts giving weitage for crew protection unlike russian tanks. The primary design is similar that of the Leopard 2A4 Tank, because of the design consultancy by Krauss Maffei and the involvement of several German firms. The latest GSQR for MBT based on M1A1 Abrams was submitted to the DRDO in 1990. When you have a set of new requirements then, even if you have received an entirely different requirement earlier and worked on it for considerable time, you have to strap it and start from the beginning. This is not a consideration for these fellows. There is a huge difference in 35 years and 18 years. DRDO fulfilled the GSQR with a product that has same capability of M1A1 Abrams with 10 ton less weight. Arjun is ready now. DRDO has done a commendable job in just 18 years!!!!!!!! Every time a new GSQR is placed, that is the date on which the development of that project begins. Ask any engineer, software professional, for the matter ask any one in a profession who develops a product. It is not just like writing an article in one day believing your unscrupulous sources, not even caring to take time to double check and verify the facts. Smooth bore gun changed to 120 mm rifle gun - reports as I have read from various sources about this gun has been excellent. It hit 15 out of 17 in stationary position and 17 out of 17 while in the move. During trials the machines are working upto the last requirement specifications and RFC's given by the army. Armour and rifling techniques which Isreal has taken from India. US is now interested in it. The self diagnostic system is comparible to that of the Abrams . The saboy round penetrated the hull of a t-55 derelict then went through the second one behind it that hit the sand. The accuracy and consistency of the Arjun has been proved beyond doubt. The crew comfortability provided by Arjuns is unseen in any of the russian tanks. Maneuverability is comparable to Abram M2. Arjun prototype passed direct hits from t-90 AP rounds (new round), it passed fragmented top attack munitions. Army does not know what they want. First of all they should have a for sight..... . They should setup a department just to foresee the requirements of future weapons they require. Out of the box thinking is required. Matter of fact improvement of armor, FCS, Self-diagnostic system, Battle management system; ride comfort is not possible because they are already the best. Yes, improvement is of course possible but for future. In just 18 years you have an MBT with world class Armor. Kachan armor itself is proved its mettle. Only MBT that can rival in the armor is the Challenger tank with Chobham Armor. Now we have NERA armor!!!!!. 120 mm rifle gun that has now proved its accuracy beyond doubt. World class FCS !!!!!- Apparently from France. Pneumatic suspension - one of it's kind in the world!!!!! - Providing riding comfort of Rolls Royce. Well we have an engine of 1400 HP - good enough. 1500 HP would have been better. Self-diagnostic system Battle management system In 2-4 years 1500 HP diesel engine will also be indigenously produced. Hopefully. Weight of M1A2 68.7 tons. The latest Leopard weights 60 tons. Leclerc weights 56 tons. Leclerc is considered to be of the best mobile mbt of the lot. All of them have gone for armor sacrificing mobility. Army wants a MBT with a real potent armor. With the kind of anti tank missiles we have now, it is improbable to have a tank that weights 45-50 Tons with an effective armor. It is simple if you need armor compromise on mobility or to gain mobility compromise on armor. Else, you need to have a power packed engine. The kind of Armor Arjun has got you cannot ask it to fly like a T-80 or T-90 tanks. So that is the basis of saying Arjun is over weight? The Arjun, the T-72 and the T-90 are put through the same paces. After first agreeing and even issuing a detailed trail directive in 2005 � the army has backed away from comparative trials. Why?????? The ongoing trials in Pokhran that the army is citing are Accelerated Usage cum Reliability Trials (AUCRT). In these, two Arjun tanks were run almost non-stop for 3,000 kilometres, not to judge performance, but to evaluate the tank's requirement of spare parts, fuel and lubricants during its entire service life. The army has also testified incorrectly to the Standing Committee about four engine failures during the recent AUCRT Why????. The fact was, the problems were with four gearboxes manufactured by German company Renk AG. A world leader in transmission systems, Renk representatives are already in Pokhran and Avadi, analysing and resolving the problem. This problem was only appeared after 15 years for trial. Several defects where found on T-90 including engine heating up, FCS, torsion bar being breaking up but they are acceptable. FCS was replaced by the frech FCS but no hullah bullah from army.
ramesh
Dear writer, Do you know the economics of an indigenius production of defence equipments? Let me explain. If you spend a 100 crore for an indigenius item, the money goes to the Indian industry which inturn goes to the common working level person. A 100 crore defence product generates jobs worth four times its value and these jobs are avilable to Indians. Now if you pay 100 crore for the defence item to be imported, you end up in a good looking excellent product as seen in catalogue. But in the field, you do not know the head and tail of that and spend another 1000 crore for spares/maintenance/service/upkeep etc. All this generates gobs and the money for the foreign country. The stingent test which are insisted up on each Indian system is highly relaxed for an imported system, because we can not pay the costs of the testing as this will be more than the price of the product. But for Indian systems developed by DRDO all these things are a must. You claim about price over run and time over run in Indigenius design. Let us see what India had designed so far. Do we have a car designed by ourself. Do we have a trasport air craft designed by our self. No. India is learning to design and starting to manufacture. Now that the produts are nearing its completion stage for many complex systems like the MBT Arjun and the LCA, The army or the airforce has to order sufficeint volume and induct the products in the services. Then only the industries (Indian) who had participated in these technology developments will get benefitted and can mature to supply large quantities for the world market. In fact I am of the openion that DRDO should focus world market rather than the Indian army or airforce alone. Each foreign supplier has hundereds of agents in the services and they always tries their best to sell their product. It is always bettter to focus world market and supply for at least some third world countries.
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