NEW DELHI — The Indian Army is seeking major structural and design changes in the homegrown Arjun Mk-2, but the state-owned Defence Research and Development Organization says the "changes" could take up to seven years, causing a delay in the induction schedule.
The service wants DRDO to redesign the hull, the turret structures and use newer material to reduce the tank's weight. The Arjun Mk-2 currently weighs about 68.6 tons, compared to the 62-ton Arjun Mk-1 tank currently in operation with the Army. The Mk-2 version's weight makes it inappropriate for operations in the semi-developed sector of the western front bordering Pakistan where tank battles would take place, according to an Indian Army official.
According to a defense analyst here, the Army "has lost interest in the Arjun Mark-2" after it became disillusioned with the earlier version. "The problem is that the basic structure and profile of the tank being heavy is not acceptable to the Army," said Rahul Bhonsle, who retired from the service as a brigadier.
The Indian Army has inducted 124 Arjun Mk-1 tanks, but several were grounded after requiring spare parts and maintenance. "Nearly 55 percent of the value of Arjun Mark-1 tank is imported components, and there the supplies have dried up."
A DRDO scientist who spoke to Defense News would not comment on the Army's modification proposals, but did say the Arjun Mk-2 is "ready for induction," has a total of 93 upgrades including 13 major improvements and "will fully meet the needs of the Indian Army."
The major changes to the Arjun Mk-2 include an upgrade of the missile-firing capability against long-range targets, panoramic sight with night vision to effectively engage targets at night, containerized ammunition, enhanced main-weapon penetration, additional ammunition types, explosive-reactive armor, an advanced air-defense gun to engage helicopters, a mine plow, an advanced land navigation system and a warning system that can fire smoke grenades to confuse laser guidance.
"Arjun Mark-2, with [a] number of improvements over Arjun Mark-I, is a third-generation tank comparable with others in range and confirmed acceptable after trial and evaluation by users. Hence, there should be no reason for its not being fit for combat," according to Bhupinder Yadav, a defense analyst and retired Indian Army major general.
The Army has about 3,500 tanks made up of T-72 tanks and the newer T-90 tanks.
"All T-72 tanks in service would have lived their life in [the] next 10 years and will require replacement," Yadav said.
To meet future tank needs, analysts tend to agree that India should invest in a new, homemade Future Main Battle Tank, or FMBT, based on lessons learned from the Arjun Mk-1 and Mk-2.
"India, with the experience of the development of two variants, should go on its own, and the new design should have homogeneity with the existing inventory," Yadav offered.
Bhonsle agreed: "India should pursue a single project such as the FMBT with the Army, DRDO and other agencies including foreign research and design developers and private sector joining in a coordinated effort."