Even as the Indian Army was struggling to find a suitable deployment for the indigenous Main Battle Arjun Mk-I, which at 58 tonnes was heavy for rapid deployment in forward areas, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has come up with its Mk-II version that is heavier by 10 tonnes.
While the Arjun Mk-II has outperformed the Russian-built T-90s that are the mainstay of the Indian Army’s mainstay in terms of speed, accuracy and firepower, its huge weight has constrained its deployment options.
The Arjun tanks took nearly four decades to materialize. Because of its weight, a reluctant army placed an order for only 124 units after a bitter wrangling with the premier military research organization that was insisting on purchase of at least 500 tanks to make the project costing the ex-chequer $ 3.5 billion feasible.
The Army asked the DRDO to improve the tank further and produce Mk-II version and promised that the force might order more units. But before embarking on the project, the DRDO asked for an initial order and the force contracted to acquire 122 Arjun Mk-II, which is expected to cost approximately Rs. 37 crore per unit.
Now the sources reveals: “The Army has sought nearly 80 improvements in the tank. But this has resulted in a significant increase in the weight. While Arjun Mk-I was 58 tonnes Mk-II is 67 tonnes.”
Even though the Indian Army had not given any qualitative requirements for the Arjun Mk-II vis-à-vis the weight of the tank, still at 67 tonnes it is heaviest of the tanks in the force’s inventory. Presently the Russian-built T-90s that form the mainstay of the Indian Army’s armoured thrust weigh a modest 47.5 tonnes.
The initial comparison between the T-90s and the indigenous Arjun Mk-II has left the Indian Army officers in dilemma. “The Arjun Mk-II is more agile, has greater accuracy and has more potent firepower in comparison to the Russian tanks. But the question is where will the force deploy the 67 tonne tank?” asks an officer.
The MBT Arjun had earned the moniker of 'Rajpath ka tank' due to the long time of 37 years it took in making
The Indian Army is validating a new transformation policy that envisages reaching strategic depths of the enemy’s territory by launching swift armoured offensive, but Arjun Mk-II does not fit the bill as it cannot cross the border in the western sector along with Pakistan as they have natural and artificial obstacles. “The problem with heavier tanks is just not about the transportation and bridges, we can revamp them. But the real challenge is that there is a real danger of the tank sinking in the ground due to its own pressure,” added the officer. The only area where the Army thinks this indigenous tank can be deployed is the Thar desert.
Presently the trials of the Arjun Mk-II are undergoing in Pokharan, Rajasthan and the summer trials will be conducted next week. It will be only 2015 that the tanks will enter into production and till then the Indian Army has a tough task cut out – to find a suitable role for this tank.