Monday, 10 May 2010

MBT Arjun Tank Vs MBT Khalid

India’s main battle tank Project Arjun is, unfortunately, more flab than brawn. More a heavyweight than a performer. A potpourri really, with a French engine, and German seals fitted into an Indian hull and turret. And transporting this heavyweight is going to be another problem, which could limit its operational performance.

Project Arjun has indeed suffered throughout its development, from confusion and inexplicable delays. And by imbalances between the Army, the DRDO and the bureaucracy. Pakistan by contrast, has drawn a lesson from the Indian experience and avoided the trap of over lasting her R&D’s indigenous know-how in the development of its MBT Khalid.

India’s main Battle Tank (MBT) Project Arjun, named after mythical hero of the Mahabharat, was conceived in 1974. It was then planned that by 1995, about 10 armoured regiments of the Indian Army would be re-equipped with Arjun. Depending excessively on research and development, advanced industrial and defence production base, project Arjun was planned entirely to be under taken by the scientists and the engineers indigenously.

Almost six different agencies have been at work on this project, besides a number of subsidiary organizations. Published reports revealed that after a number of prototypes and pre-production models spread over the last 16 years or so, own Defence and Research Development Organization has managed to produce an over 60 tons tank. Some armour experts have termed it as more of a heavyweight than a performer, more of flabbiness than mobile fire power.

Arjun mounts a 120mm rifled gun deadly in lethal power but wanting in accuracy. Its performance in various trails was reported to be anything but up to the mark. It is believed that during in March 1990, General V. N. Sharma, the then Army Chief of Staff and an armoured expert, was “quite wild” when only three of the five rounds hit the 5X5 meter target and no hit was scored against a moving target.

Its trial performance stands in sharp contrast to that claimed by the DRDO that the tank’s main gun would hit a target 60X60 cm from a distance of 2000 meter. In another similar field trial a month earlier, only four of the five rounds had hit a 5X5 meter target at 1100 meter. Incidentally, such accuracy trials are generally related to the height of the tanks, usually 2 meter high.

Arjun was basically planned as an ambitious project with complete indigenous components and assemblies. It has now been revealed that the Arjun’s sub-systems were all imported except for the hull and the turret. The imported assemblies include all major sub-systems such as engine, transmission, track-suspension, gin and fire control. Our experts are of the view that their integration, “leaves much to be desired”. The auxiliary power unit from France did not perfectly fit in the tank, with the German seals not meeting the General Staff qualitative requirements of withstanding temperatures up to 150 degree Centigrade. The barely measured up to 120 degrees. Arjun is therefore quite a “khichri” with the French engine, with German seals fitted into the Indian hull and turret mounting a not very accurate 120mm gun.

Armoured experts say that another problem thrown up by the heavyweight is its transportation. Arjun could present a lot of problem for transportation by railways particularly through certain portions of the system. This could impose very serious limitations on the Arjun’s operational performance. In most of the field armies, the tank transporters and assault bridges are not usually designed to take such heavy weights. These aspects mostly highlight the engineering and operational problems. It would be worthwhile to example financial implications. Both the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) and Public Accounts Committee have been very critical of this project relating to as much as of the rising costs as well as inordinate delays. Our finance men generally been very unhappy both over the time and cost factor, originally sanctioned at Rs. 15 crore per copy, its costs have excalated to nearly double the original estimates. Dr. Raja Ramanna has stated that the bulk production of Arjun as Indian Army’s MBT would commence sometime in 1992 or so. Hopefully, the Arjun should be the medium through which our strike corps would achieve their objective.

Experience in the most advanced countries suggests that it takes nearly 20 years t develop and integrate a tank. However, appreciating our security environment it is necessary that a state of the art MBT should become available to our forces by 1994-95. To draw lesson for the future, it is essential to cover this aspect. Project Arjun throughout its development has suffered from confusion and perhaps also from avoidable indecisive delays. It has been dogged by grave imbalances between the DRDO, the bureaucracy and the Army. It took us nearly 15 years to appoint an expert senior Armoured Corps officers (Lt. Gen.) to coordinate the various loose ends. General Tripathi was the first incumbent.

As it is, project Arjun has involved the utilization of six major imported sub-systems and , there fore all this talk of idigneousness will not quite wash. Yet another lesson is that we should not put all our eggs in one basket and must have fall back position s and options, despite repeated setbacks - be these in the ongoing Arjun and the LCA projects and our earliest dismal experience on HF-24 Muruts.

While our success in missiles is definitely a feather in DRDO’s cap, the Arjun and LCA projects underlines, the need for a review at the political level whether India can support such wasteful expenditure and delays. This is an age of globalization and sharing of technology, along with co-sharing of benefits. We seem to have paid rather heavily for trying to do it ourselves in the vain hope of doing it better than all others elsewhere.

Perhaps the political factor and DRDO’s overconfidence may have been major limitations and our political masters and scientists as well as the users need to have a second look in such vital areas as defence. And now to take a look at the development of the MBT by our Western neighbors. Pakistani experts have apparently drawn a lesson from Indian experience in this field. They avoided the trap of an over estimating know how indigenous R&D” and industrial base. Fortunately, the bureaucratic working environments in this particular context are far more efficient and responsive in Pakistan with the need to Armed Forces being given a respected look, due partly to their role in the affairs of the state.

Reports since last September continue to suggest that Pakistan has not only been implementing an ambitious project to upgrade her existing fleet of Chinese built T-59 tanks, but has also carried out successful production of her MBT prototypes.

Besides upgrading its T-59 tanks, which number over 1300, Pakistan has also produced a new upgraded model designated T-69-2MP with a 105mm rifle bore gun and an improved fire control system. T-69-2MP which rolled out from the Heavy Rebuild Factory in December ‘90 is to be the Pak Army’s MBT till a totally new and vastly improved MBT-2000 Khalid, named after the famed Arab Conqueror Khalid Bin Walid, enters the operational service sometime in 1993-94. How did Pakistan acquire such a favorable lead?

Reports in February-March this year in the Pakistani media heralded the successful testing of a modern prototype tank at its Heavy Rebuild Factory (HRF) being redesignated as Heavy Defence Industries in the ancient University township of Taxila almost 40kms North of Islamabad. Project MBT-2000 Khalid is being executed in close collaboration with China’s NORINCO. A memorandum to this effect was signed between the two countries sometime in the late 80s. According to analysts MBT-2000 Khalid is rated more than a match for the Soviet supplied T-72 tanks held by our army.

Having completed the design and development of MBT-2000 Khalid project, a number of prototypes have been built for evaluation and trials under different conditions. The preliminary prototype is being handed over to Pakistan Army for field trials in June 1991. General Mirza Aslam Beg, the Pakistan Army Chief, while addressing the annual conference of commanding officers of tank regiments on March 17, 1991, at Nowshera (Ahmed Nagar being its Indian counterpart), further revealed that the production of this tank is expected to commence in 1993. A word, however needs to be mentioned about the Taxila Industrial Complex. This complex has come to be known as the Golden Triangle with its two sides comprising Heavy Mechanical Complex and the heavy Forge and Foundry. Once a total wildness, Taxila has developed into Pakistan’s single largest heavy industrial complex.

Together with the Wah Ordnance Factories Complex and further north the Kamra Aeronautical Complex, these reflect Pakistan’s determination to achieve indigenous industrial development and also that country’s well-planned efforts for self-reliance in vital areas of defence.

According to military analyst, Pakistan adopted a step-by-step approach towards the manufacture of its MBT-2000 Khalid, and this is the single most important reason for having stolen a march over India. They are of the opinion that the Indian project was too ambitious, whereas Pakistan’s approach was more systematic comprising the following phases:
Setting up of project 711 in the early 80s to rebuild the Chinese T-59 tanks inducted in Pakistan Army after the 1965 conflict with India. Some 1000 such tanks are being built and 2000 engines of tanks are being produced.

Project 711 was subsequently expanded and redesignated P-711-K (K in Chinese denotes extension). This project is designed to eliminate need for imported components up to 80 percent. More importantly, on a long term basis, P-711-K has been planned to establish production base for manufacture of complete MBT.

It is learnt that once the production line for the MBT 2000 gets established, over 100 such tanks will start rolling out to give Pakistan a level of self-reliance undreamed of earlier. In this entire process (P-711 to 711-K), various series of tanks such as P-70, P-85, and finally P-90 (MBT-2000 Khalid) are being completed in phased manner.

Pakistan’s MBT-2000 Khalid will mount a 125mm gun with thermal image converter and will enter Pakistan’s operational service sometime by the mid-90s thus the T-series of tanks are being progressively converted into P-Series. Maximum effort has been devoted to getting the machine souped up as possible mainly to cut down weight. Just compare the 60 tons Arjun with the maximum 44 tons P-90 khalid.

Now that T-69-2MP2 has commenced entering Pakistan Army service succeeding the T-59 series and preceding MBT-2000 Khalid, it is essential to mention some details of this tank. It is equipped with 105mm gun with a more powerful engine, special armour for increased protection in the Pakistani built laser range finder and thermal image sighting system to maximize the gun range even in the hours of darkness. It also has an integrated fire control system for reducing engagement time and increasing accuracy, along with the automatic fire support system. This tank’s most lethal component, the penetrater ammunition called Armour Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS), is also being indigenously produced. It will not be out of place to mention that bilateral discussions are already underway with USA on the possible co-production of the Abram M1A1 tank which proved its superiority in the recent Gulf war against Iraq. Pakistan has ruled out its purchase and signed an agreement in November ‘90 with the US company General Dynamics for establishing a rebuild factory for M-Series of tracked vehicles (M-47, M-45A2, M-68, A3 and M-113 and others).

This project has been designated P-87. Currently, a series of such closely related projects to manufacture hull, turret, gun barrels and engines are in various stages of planning-execution. All these will finally merged into a tank manufacturing factory that will produce MBT-2000 Khalid.

A comparison of the approaches on the production of MBT-2000 by India and Pakistan clearly highlights that in such areas where both research and development, as also the industrial base of a reasonably high level do not exist, it is in the overall interest of the country as also its armed forces that we should shed our political obsessions, bureaucratic ineptitude and the overestimated vanity of our DRDO. It can surely save the country vast amount of scarce funds while, at the same time , giving our armed forces the best weapons system. With the changes in Soviet Union and Eastern Europe , we definitely need to review our earlier approach in the sphere.

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