Frontier India Defence and Strategic News Service (FIDSNS) uncovers the story of Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT), which is one of the world’s best main battle tanks. Indian indigenous Arjun MBT development history is a facinating story of Indian quest to develop a formidable Tank.The article covers the design, development and operational use of Arjun Tank. FIDSNS is greatfull to Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for its time and efforts to make this article.
The main battle tank MBT-80 which is now called MBT Arjun was conceived by the Indian Army after it realised the futility of its tanks mainly in desert conditions, during the 1971 war.
1972 – 1975
In October 1970 a symposium was held on the Indian Main Battle Tank (MBT) at Armoured Corps Center and School. It was attended by the representatives from Indian Army General Staff (GS), Defence Research and Development Organisation DRDO), Director General Quality Assurance (DGQA) and Department of Defence Production (DODP). The main aim of the symposium was to formulate GSQR for future Indian MBT.
The first draft of Qualitative Requirement (QR) was prepared by Armoured Corps Directorate and discussed with Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS).
The first General Staff Qualitative Requirement (GSQR) was issued in August 1972 as QR No. 326 for the design and development of MBT. The QR 326 was not exhaustive and with regard to specifications but featured only skeleton specifications.
The design and development of MBT based on GSQR No. 326 was taken up by the Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE). The initial outlay of Rs. 15.50 Crore was sanctioned vide the Government of India (GOI) letter dated 02 May, 1974. Project Development Certification (PDC) of the project was 10 years from the date of sanction.
The MBT was to be designed around imported engine as the design and development experience to create a tank engine was not available within the time frame of the project. In 1974, DRDO had to take up design and development of a tank engine as Government of India could not import a tank engine because of political and other reasons.
DRDO prepared the system configuration of the tank. Indigenous engine hardware was assembled and motoring test commenced by 1979. Indigenous suspension and transmission hardware was ready for development test. The main 115mm armament was developed and trials were carried out for proof at Balasore ranges. The gun system and fire control system design was configured. One prototype hull in mild steel was fabricated to check the fitment and assembly.
In April 1978, the Indian Army called DRDO for a meeting for mutual discussions. The aim was to change the GSQR No. 326. A series of meetings between DRDO and Indian Army, chaired by VCOAS resulted in change in GSQR. The new GSQR bearing the number 431 was issued in August 1982.
The changes in the GSQR No. 431 were
a)Increase in width and weight
b)110/115mm gun was to be replaced with a 120mm gun.
c)Improved Sighting and Fire Control system.
Essentially it meant creation of entirely new design and systems. A sum of Rs. 56.55 Crores was obtained mainly to cater to cater to GSQR changes and price escalation due to inflation/ rise in import costs.
The PDC of the project was revised. The first prototype was to be built by October 1980 and subsequently 12 prototypes were to be developed, one in every 6 months.
The indigenous engine and transmission evaluation on dynamometer was carried out during 1979-81.
1980 – 1985
As already mentioned that the country had no experience in building an basic internal combustion engine. The tank engine development slipped as this engine was to be made after experimenting with basics of an internal combustion engine. Project of this scale was almost impossible for nascent Indian research laboratories. By this time, the western governments had shown willingness to supply the engines. A decision was taken to import a limited number of engines (also called “power packs”) from M/S MTU, Germany. For the fitment On Mark 1 (Mk 1) prototypes so as not to let the development schedule of the MBT slip.
Initially MTU supplied a 700hp engine for fitment trials and subsequently supplied 1100hp engine for prototypes. The MTU was also developing a 1400hp engine as per the specifications laid down by CVRDE.
The first prototype of the MBT was developed based on GSQR No. 326 of 1972 and No. 431 of 1982.
The prototype was subjected to limited technical trials by DRDO at Avadi and Jodhpur desert area.
Subsequently, few more prototypes were produced with different configuration by 1985.
In the initial development phase, suspension, running gear and other automotive systems were being evaluated with 1100 hp engine.
1985 – 1990
There had been significant enhancement in the battle tank technologies world wide and there was a possibility of these tanks being introduced in the Indian Sub Continent. This prompted Indian Army to change its GSQR and in November 1985, third GSQR No. 467 was issued. The changes in GSQR were:
a)More lethal gun of 120mm caliber.
b)Requirement of Fin Stabilized Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot (FSAPDS)
c)Development of Semi Combustible Cartridge cases and high energy propellant.
d)Integrated Fire Control System based on sight stabilized system with periscopic gunner sight.
e)Thermal Imaging system for gunner’s main sight for night fighting capabilities.
f)Provision of “Kanchan Armour” for enhanced immunity.
In addition following conditions were in the new GSQR:
•Manufacture of 23 Pre production Series (PPS) Tanks to enable full scale troop trials and after that smooth transfer technology (TOT) to a production agency.
•Setting of Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) evaluation center and augmentation of infrastructure facilities.
•Realistic assessment of technical and user trial.
•Import of engines for prototypes and PPS.
The revised financial implication because of the new GSQR was Rs. 280.80 Crores which was issued in 1987. The GSQR escalated the cost of materials, stores and the import cost spiraled due to weakening Rupee.
The development of the tank was progressed with reference to the new GSQR. DRDO had to re – design the structure of chassis/ hull. The turret had to be designed again to cater to improved armour protection and a high power to weight ratio power pack. The MBT now also to feature Nuclear Biological and Chemical (NBC) warfare and protection system, Medium Fording capability, auxiliary power unit (APU), Laser Warning System (LWS) and Global Positioning System (GPS).
The period of 1985 – 1990 was significant in history of Arjun Tank for the progressive evolution of a number of systems through exhaustive field testing. A total of 12 Arjun Tank prototypes were built in order to prove the design, development and system integration of a number of systems through field testing.
The integration of first prototype with a proper 1400 hp engine was accomplished in 1989. During the automotive trials of the prototypes a total of 20,000 Kilometer run in various terrain. Arjun MBT covered 11000 kilometers in dessert terrain and 1000 kilometers in river bed terrain. The weapon system was also tested by firing 540 FSAPDS and 560 HESH.
1990 – 1995
The confidence of DRDO had built up with these prototypes and many improvements were made.
The first batch of 6 PPS tanks had got manufactured through Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) in Avadi, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) and Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML), each two PPS tanks. Indent for manufacture of manufacture of 9 more PPS tanks by HVF was released to HVF in December 1992.
MBT Arjun was formally inducted into Indian Army in 1993 with these 6 tanks. The performance of PPS tanks were demonstrated to the Defence Minister, COAS and the members of the Parliament in February 1993.
The PPS tanks were put through grueling tests by the field formations covering several thousand kilometers of automotive runs on various terrains and firing hundreds of rounds per tank to establish the efficiency of the Arjun tank.
The status of the Arjun Tank was reviewed by the COAS in May 1994 and “bottom line requirements” were laid down. After the completion of the 1994 trials on MBT Arjun, a presentation was made to the COAS and he laid down “Imperatives” in August 1994.
All the additional 9 PPS tanks were handed over to Army progressively and the final handing over of the 9th PPS Tank to Army happened in 1996. The last PPS tank (i.e. XV) incorporating improvements as suggested by the Army and with add on features viz. APU, NBC, Medium Fording Capability was demonstrated to COAS and users at Avadi.
The PPS Tanks delivered to the Army during this period had covered 70,000 kilometers of automotive trials and fired 7000 rounds. The average kilometer run by a PPS tank was 4500 kilometers and 460 rounds fired from each tank.
DRDO addressed the bottom line requirements and imperatives as demanded by the COAS. The overall design of the Arjun Tank was cleared.
1995 – 2000
A set of dedicated trials as directed by the COAS was carried out during August – December 1995 successfully.
The Prime Minister P.V Narsimha Rao dedicated the MBT Arjun to the nation in January 1996.
The Army designated the XV PPS tank as the reference tank for production.
In the year 1997, 11 PPS tanks participated in Indian Army Exercise “AGNIR.ATI-t.” (A clarification on the name of the exercise is needed. It could be Exercise Agnirathi). 10 Arjun Tanks successfully completed the exercise. But the Army again came back with suggestions and modifications. In November 1997, the final list of suggested modifications and “joint Action Plan” for the implementation and certification was drafted. DRDO implemented the modification to the satisfaction of the Indian Army.
The Indian Amy again put the improved tanks to trials. The 43rd Armoured Regiment conducted the automotive trials. The trials were successful and Arjun tank was brought ready for full scale production.
The Arjun MBT project was successfully closed at Rupees 305 Crores. The final acceptance by the Indian Army led to placement of order for 124 Arjun Tanks in 2002.
DRDO transferred the design and other drawings to the manufacturing agency HVF in 2002.
The Authorised Holder of the Sealed Particulars is with DRDO till certain maturity level is reached in production, i.e, the first 30 tanks produced by HVF will have quality control certified by DRDO. After that Arjun Tank will be certified by DGQA.
The Arjun Tank had its detractors in form of internal rivalry of the users, the Indian arms import lobby and media seeking sensationalism. Since India did not have any Tank design experience and many defence experts expressed doubts about the viability of the Arjun Tank project when it started and questioned the capability of the CVRDE to design and develop tanks. DRDO took these challenges and ever shifting qualitative requirements, in stride. Pending a political decision, currently DRDO is gearing up for the development of Arjun Mark-2 Tanks (Arjun Mk.2).
P. Chacko Joseph
Copyrights: Frontier India Defence and Strategic News Service, May 2007.