Just a few clarifications to put my recent three-article series on Indian tanks in context.
1. I think that the conclusion that some visitors are drawing --- that everything Russian is bad --- amounts to overreaction to my articles. As one critic of the articles correctly posted, Russia has provided us systems that nobody else was willing to provide at prices that nobody else could match. Even if that was in the past, and Russia today adopts a far more hard-nosed, where-are-the-dollars approach towards arms sales to India, one would be ill-advised to forget history.
For example, one visitor posted about my article: “Did you read the parts that establish that the T-90 is at worst a piece of junk, or at best as good/bad as the obsolete T-72?” Well, I’d just point out that you are reading more into my account of the T-90 deal than I actually said. I certainly said that the deal was tailored to bypass parliamentary opposition, India ended up getting an under-equipped T-90 tank, important tank systems failed because they could not withstand exposure to the Indian environment, there were problems in transferring technology, and we have not yet managed to get the tank upgraded to the level that it should have been acquired in.
All that is true, yes! But also remember that, compared to the T-72, the T-90 is a much better tank. And, whether you like it or not, the T-90 will be in service with the Indian Army till at least 2040, maybe even 2050.
2. I also think that anyone who argues: scrap all Russian equipment and go Indian is fantasizing. Russian equipment is still the mainstay of our mechanised forces and, even if we adopt a conscious policy of Indianisation, it will be decades before Russian equipment serves out its life. Since we have to live with Russian systems for a long, long time, we need to identify which tanks we could phase out first, in what time frame we could retire them, and what we can upgrade and retain in service for a longer period.
3. A crucial step, in my opinion, will have to be doubling the rate of retirement of the obsolescent T-72s. One replacement stream is the T-90, being produced at the HVF, Avadi. A second stream of Arjuns must supplement this, for which the following broad process must begin:
(a) Increase Arjun tank production on an expanded assembly line, at the rate of 30, 40, and then 50 tanks per year in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. Task CVRDE to ready the Arjun Mark II by 2013. By 2015 the Arjun production line at HVF MUST roll out 62 Arjun Mark II tanks per year (i.e. one regiment at full scale, including reserve tanks). By 2018, the Arjun Mark III must roll out. Each of these upgrades must have limited and realistic improvements, identified not from glossy magazines but through operational usage by Indian Army regiments.
(b) Alongside the Arjun Improvement Programme (AIP), which will handle the upgrade to Mark II and Mark III standards, work must commence by 2012 on the Future MBT programme. Two consortiums must compete in creating the design: a CVRDE-led consortium that can draw on the Arjun experience. And a private industry-led consortium, which is granted full access to the Arjun design experience, as well as to any other resources that they choose. The private industry consortium must be fully funded by the MoD, their budget in line with what the CVRDE-led consortium is permitted to spend.
(c) As Arjun tanks roll out, T-72M regiments must convert to the Arjun, those with older tanks first. The conversion will serve a two-fold purpose: firstly, the T-72 regiments that first convert to Arjuns, i.e. 4-5 regiments by 2015, need not be upgraded with TIFCS, etc. Secondly, the introduction of Arjuns into service, and the setting up of Arjun instructional cells at the Armoured Corps Centre & School, Ahmednagar, will start spreading an Arjun culture into an army where the opposition to the Arjun is based on an outdated impression of the tank --- on what it was, rather than what it is.
(d) The remaining T-72s need to be upgraded on priority. The ten-year-old process to upgrade them needs to be pushed through, if necessary by a high-voltage, public resignation by whoever the DGMF happens to be. By doing so, that officer will have done more for his arm than any of his recent predecessors; and will be remembered for much more than just “being a good chap”.
(e) By 2015, the DRDO, in collaboration with private industry, must produce and operationalise an Arjun Bridge Layer Tank (BLTs), an Arjun Trawl Tank, and the specialised maintenance vehicles that will be provided to each Arjun regiment. Production lines must cater for adequate scales of these.
(f) The process needs to be set in motion now for creating two Arjun overhaul facilities in the private sector. The first fifteen Arjuns will soon be due for overhaul and the HVF has proved unable to even handle the T-72 overhaul. Just as an RFI has been floated for creating T-72 overhaul facilities, the Arjun overhaul facilities must be kicked off immediately.