Indian Army T-90 tanks parade during Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi. India plans to upgrade more than 600 of the tanks. (Agence France-Presse)
NEW DELHI — The Indian Army will upgrade more than 600 Russian-built T-90 tanks by adding new features and replacing their thermal imaging sights, navigation systems and fire control systems at a cost of more than $250 million.
The Indian Ministry of Defence formally approved the Army’s three-year-old proposal for the T-90 upgrade Feb. 24, and the tender for the upgrade will be sent only to domestic defense companies, an MoD source said.
The upgraded T-90 tanks will have air-conditioning systems, which will be developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The tanks’ existing armor protection systems, navigation gear, thermal imaging sights and fire control systems will be replaced.
India contracted to acquire 310 T-90s from Russia in 2001, 190 of which were license-produced at the Avadi-based, state-owned ordnance factory. Another contract was signed in 2007 for the licensed production of 330 tanks. The lack of an air conditioning system in these tanks caused damage to their thermal imaging systems when operating in hot climates, an Army official said.
The Army plans to procure a total of 1,657 T-90s by 2020, which will include 1,000 tanks produced indigenously under full transfer of technology from Russia, with all parts made in India.
“DRDO had earlier attempted to mount air conditioning systems on the tanks, but were stopped by Russia, citing intellectual property rights,” said Arun Sehgal, a retired Army brigadier general and defense analyst.
“The Russians were then asked to fit the air conditioning systems in the T-90 tanks, but the attempt was unsuccessful,” Sehgal said. The intellectual property rights issue has since been resolved between India and Russia.
Another Army official said, “The thermal imaging system of the T-90 tanks were faulty from the initial stage.”
Rahul Bhonsle, another retired Indian Army brigadier general and defense analyst, said, “A major part of the proposed upgrade will include providing an enhanced fire control potential because in the comparative trials between the Arjun and T-90 tanks last year, the Arjun had demonstrated a superior sighting system than the Russian tank.”
The Army carried out comparative trials between the heavier homemade Arjun and the lighter Russian-built T-90 in the deserts of Rajasthan last year, with the aim of assessing the Arjun’s combat worthiness.
Both the Arjun and T-90 are being produced at the Avadi factory. Production of the Mark-1 model of the Arjun has begun with 124 tanks ordered. The first Mark-2 models, of which 124 also are ordered, are expected by early 2016.
The indigenous production of about 1,000 additional T-90s has been contracted, but production has not yet begun.
“The Russians have not provided full-scale [intellectual property rights] and are withholding some critical designs; thus, full-scale indigenization has been held up in Avadi,” Bhonsle said.
A Russian diplomat, however, said Russia is supplying all necessary technology, and that the responsibility for production delays rests with the Avadi factory.
An official of the Ordnance Factory Board, which administers the Avadi factory, said the Russians have supplied only 40 percent of the technology and nearly none since 2008. ■