The advent of Arjun

Published : Aug 27, 2004 00:00 IST



AS the five formidable-looking Arjun battle tanks thundered into life and rolled out on the vast campus of the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) at Avadi near Chennai on August 7, the several thousand personnel gathered there broke into applause. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee handed over the keys of the tanks to Gen. N.C. Vij, Chief of the Army Staff, who, in turn, handed them over to the Commanding Officer of the Army's 43rd Armoured Regiment.

The event marked the fruition of a 30-year project, plagued by delays and varying Army demands. Arjun, India's main battle tank (MBT), is a product of the synergy between the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) at Avadi and the HVF. While the CVRDE, a unit of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), designed and developed the Arjun, the HVF, which comes under the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) will produce it.

At the roll-out function, the top brass of the DRDO and the OFB described Arjun as a tank that was comparable to the best in the world in its lethal fire-power, high mobility and immunity. They did not mention the fact that the five Arjuns were powered by engines imported from the Motor and Turbine Union (MTU), Germany. They, however, conceded that 50 per cent of the tank's components were imported. The tank would be progressively indigenised to 85 per cent of its components, they said. (Frontline, February 18, 2000 and April 23, 1993).

Arjun has had a chequered history. The CVRDE began developing an engine for the country's MBT in 1974 under the leadership of the late D.P. Mukherji. The project, however, floundered after he left the CVRDE, which is yet to fully develop the engine. On April 19, 1985, Gen. A.S. Vaidya, then Chief of the Army Staff, gave the name Arjun to the prototype tank, which was fitted with an MTU engine. On August 22, 1987, Dr. V.S. Arunachalam, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, told mediapersons at Avadi that the first 12 prototypes of Arjun would have imported engines and the next seven indigenous ones. The Army has placed orders for 124 Arjun tanks, but the indigenous engine is nowhere on the horizon. On January 9, 1996, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government formally cleared Arjun for mass production. Asked why there was so much delay between the government clearance and the roll-out now, Gen. Vij told Frontline, "It does take time. It is not easy to develop a new machine. There were minor slippages."

In manufacturing Arjun, the CVRDE has addressed specific concerns of the Army, especially with regard to the machine's heat transfer and reliability. Dr. M. Natarajan, Chief Controller, Research and Development (Armament and Combat Engineering), DRDO, and formerly CVRDE Director, who has been associated with the Arjun project from the beginning, said: "Weapons of this kind take a generation to build... When the Army wanted us to design a tank comparable with those in the United States, Germany and France, we took it up as a challenge. We had little experience then... Arjun encompasses the most beautiful technologies including the best in armour." Dr. Arunachalam called the Arjun a "fantastic" machine, describing it as a complex engineering system with moving parts. He said: "We have come a long way. We have arrived. It has not been easy. I am proud to be associated with this. Its armour is unbeatable. A tank is determined by its mobility, fire-power and protection. Arjun is unbeatable in all the three."

Arjun's armour, called Kanchan, is indigenously designed and produced. It is made of composite steel, titanium and ceramic embedded together. The tank weighs 58.5 tonnes, and is powered by a 1,400 horsepower engine. "It has a hydro-gas suspension, which is akin to the landing of an aircraft. You get more pressure than when an Airbus lands," Dr. Natarajan said. The hydro-gas suspension provides excellent riding comfort to the crew, and has been designed taking into account the diverse terrain on which the tank will have to traverse. Its mobility is marked by fast acceleration and deceleration and it has an excellent braking system. Its rifled 120-mm gun, together with the super velocity fin stabilised armour piercing discarding sabot (FSAPDS) ammunition, can pierce the armour of enemy tanks. Its secondary weapons are a 7.62-mm machine gun and a 12.7-mm anti-aircraft gun. The tank's superior fire-power is based on a computer-controlled system, by which it can engage targets accurately and quickly. It can engage targets on the move and its first hit probability is high. A thermal imaging system enables it to see targets even in pitch darkness.

With the help of a special filter system that keeps out dust, the tank can operate in the desert. Its cables and connections are protected from dust and it has a provision for deflogging the radiator and heat exchangers. Dr. Natarajan said: "The engine will never be shut down even in the most critical conditions. This addresses the heat transfer phenomenon... The tank, without air-conditioning, can dissipate heat." Arjun's design is modular, including that of the weapon system, turret and the power pack. "You can change the power pack in the field in 45 minutes. Elsewhere, it takes 14 hours," Dr. Natarajan said.

The Army's order of 124 Arjun tanks is likely to be delivered by 2007-08. The first squadron of 14 tanks is to be handed over before March 2005. P.K. Misra, Chairman, OFB, said the assembly and integration of the tanks would be subsequently taken up at the Ordnance Factory, Medak, near Hyderabad, with a view to augmenting the production, as the HVF's hands are already full with the production of the T-90 S Bhishma tanks, the overhauling of the T-72 M1 Ajeya tanks, and now the manufacture of the Arjun.

T.S. Subramanian
Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment