An Indian plan to develop a new tank raises some questions about the future of the Army's Arjun.(Photo: SAM PANTHAKY/AFP
NEW DELHI — The Indian Army's plan to develop and build a medium-weight main battle tank to replace more than 2,500 Russian T-72s has raised questions about the future of the homemade Arjun tank and likely would kill a decade-old proposal by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to build a tank, according to analysts and officials.
The Indian Army this month floated a global request for information to seek partners to design the new tank under a program called Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV). As a medium-weight platform it would weigh 40-plus tons, compared with the Arjun, which weighs 60 tons.
"The proposed FRCV is in the medium category and is more likely to be around the T-90 platform than the Arjun Mark-II platform, which is getting close to the medium-heavy/heavy category," said Anil Chait, retired Indian Army lieutenant general. "Designing and developing the product around proposed qualitative requirements afresh would suggest that we may be looking toward the end of the Arjun saga," he said.
However, Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Army brigadier general and defense analyst, said the Arjun will progress from the current Mark-1 level to Mark-3.
"The lead time for the FRCV to be manufactured, if all goes well, is likely to be approximately 15 years or so. This provides adequate scope for the Arjun series to be progressed to at least Mark-3. Moreover, there is a need in the Indian Army for an Arjun class of tank."
While no Ministry of Defence official would comment on the fate of the decade-old Futuristic Main Battle Tank (FMBT) project to be developed by DRDO, an Army official said FRCV has "surely killed" the FMBT.
The FMBT, intended to be in the 50-plus ton category, was also meant to replace the T-72s.
"The FRCV seems to be a completely new project which possibly junks the FMBT, which was being worked upon by the DRDO or may be a lead to the developing agency to add on to the existing work that has already been done on the same," Bhonsle said.
"I surely see Americans, Russians, French, Germans, Koreans and British participating along with Indian companies in stand-alone or joint venture mode. We could see leading companies from there which are involved with tank design, participating in it," Chait said.
Unlike the earlier tank effort, the FRCV does not restrict production to the DRDO. Domestic defense companies in tie-ups with overseas defense companies can serve as the production agencies.
"As this is an open competition, private agencies could also be roped in to develop the tank. The best option would be for DRDO designing and developing the same with a foreign partner as it is best placed technically to do so. For an Indian private company in collaboration with a foreign partner it would be a Greenfield venture," where the foreign company would construct new facilities for the project, Bhonsle said.
The Army plans to begin induction of the basic FRCV by 2025-27, which would be the platform on which numerous variants would be developed to serve different functions. These variants will include a tracked light tank, a wheeled version, a bridge layer tank, a trawl tank and mine plows, armored recovery vehicle, self-propelled gun, anti-aircraft tank, artillery observation vehicle, engineer reconnaissance vehicle, and armored ambulance.
According to the request for information, FRCV will be executed in three stages: design, prototype developmental and production.
The request says the design agency and developing agency can be separate entities. The best design will be chosen and given to the nominated development agency for prototype production. The selected prototype will be given to the production agency or agencies for bulk production.
Shankar Roy Chowdhury, retired Army general and former service chief, said the paramount requirement for the tank is survivability.
"Russian designers sought to achieve this [survivability] by smaller size [three-man crew and lighter armor], lower profile and speed. The West preferred larger turrets, hence thicker armor, heavier tanks. The test for both designs has been the Arab-Israeli wars and the gulf war. The Russian designs did not do too well. Blame that on the crews if you like," Roy Chowdhury said.
The most important requirement, however, is that the future FRCV must be indigenously designed, Roy Chowdhury said.
India's Tank Plan Clouds Future of Arjun