A Case Study of Arjun Tank || How Inefficient Bureaucracy and Dirty Politics Ruined a Very Important Project!

Arjun Tank
The Arjun Tank is a third generation main battle tank developed by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), for the Indian Army. This tank has been criticised by many because of the project being so costly and the tank being an underperformer as compared to the other modern tanks of the world. Many people also criticise it for being a badly designed tank for its rifled gun, lame ammunition, poor ammo storage etc. Also, a 2016 report from Comptroller and Auditor General of India said that Arjun Tanks have not been operational since 2013 due to a lack of spares. All of this has led to Arjun Mk-I Tank being hated by everyone.

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with my friends about tanks and India's self reliance in defence equipment. The topic of Arjun tank also popped up which prompted me to write this article. In my opinion, criticism is important for a healthy democracy and without valid criticism, no one will ever improve. The points made by the critics are all valid points but it I think it is very harsh to criticise the tank's design or DRDO for the failure of this project. In this article, I am going to talk about the most common criticisms of the tank, my opinion on who actually deserves all the criticism and the hate and a lot more.

Quick Facts about the Arjun Mk-I Tank

  • Mass 58.5 tonnes (57.6 long tons; 64.5 short tons) 
  • Length 10.638 metres (34 ft 10.8 in)
  • Width 3.864 metres (12 ft 8.1 in)
  • Height 2.32 metres (7 ft 7 in)
  • Crew 4 (commander, gunner, loader and driver)

Indian tanks
An Arjun MBT being test driven on the bump track at CVRDE, at Avadi, Chennai - Image Source

Poor Planning, Technical Deficiencies and Common Criticisms

Note : I have mentioned sources of the criticisms so that no controversy is created from my side.

  • The development of the tank began in 1974 but for some reason, the Indian government decided to mass-produce the tank at Indian Ordnance Factory's production facility in Avadi in 1996.[Source]
  • When first accepted for service in the army, the Arjun relied heavily on foreign components and technology. Initially, close to 50% of the tank's components were imported, which included the engine, transmission, gun barrel, tracks, and fire control system.[Source]
  • In 1988-1989 two prototypes underwent trials, which revealed major deficiencies in mobility, engine, and transmission. In 1996 and 1997, some changes were made but still were found to perform below the acceptable standards and following deficiencies were listed: [Source]
    • Accuracy of gun at battle ranges
    • Mission reliability
    • Ammunition lethality
    • Containerisation of ammunition bin
    • Emergency traverse
    • Fire control system unable to function in temperatures above 42 degrees Celsius(this was a major drawback because temperatures in areas like Rajasthan are much higher than that) [Source]
  • The tank weighs in at 58.5 tonnes which makes it sigificantly heavier than the Soviet-legacy tanks used by the Indian Army. This required a lot of changes to be made to the army's logistics establishment, including new railroad cars to transport the bigger and heavier Arjun tanks. This greatly increased the cost of the whole project. [Source]

arjun mk 1
Image Source

Is it actually a failure?

In my opinion it is not as big a failure as people perceive it to be. Tank development is a very complex process. There are so many different parts of a tank like hull, armour, turret, running gear and gun for the tank, If a country wants to develop an indigenous tank, then every aspect of tank building should be perfect and requires specialised development.  

I would even argue that the decision to take a mammoth task of developing an indigenous tank of our own without the help of other countries is a huge success in itself. At that time, India had no background skills or experience in building tanks. Before 1974, India had World War II era British Centurion Tanks and American Sherman Tanks. 

But I think that if India had taken help from a country like Russia at that time, it would have been a better decision. Russia would have taught essential tank building skills and many mistakes could have simply been avoided in future. Who knows how many indigenous tanks we could have built till now and how much time we could have saved.

Another point to note is that the development of Arjun began in 1974 but it took 30 years for it to enter in service. The tanks were first inducted into the 43 Armoured Regiment, Indian Army Armoured Corps in 2004 while the latest induction has been into the 75 Armoured Regiment on 12 March 2011. Originally, it was planned that Arjun will enter service in 1985. If everything would have happened as planned, Arjun would have been one of the best tanks of that era. The tank is an underperformer only when compared to 21st century standards. So that's why Indian Army has decided to go with Russian T-90 tanks.

So what do you think actually failed? The Arjun tank, it's design or the execution from the authorities?

Why did the development take so long? Whom should I blame?

Everyone is aware about the time management skills and the 'hardworking' nature of Indian government bodies. They don't care about adhering to the schedule and completing the work assigned to them before deadline. Everyone knows how inefficient and corrupt the governments used to be back then. Don't get me wrong here, corruption is still there but as compared to 30-40 years ago, corruption has reduced a bit. Also, political interference external meddling in the work of many such organisations is not unknown. I am not accusing anyone, I am just mentioning a possibility.

Another important fact to note is that advances in technology and the threat environment in the intervening years led to multiple revision of requirements by the Army. In 1974, the government sanctioned ₹15.5 crore (equivalent to ₹350 crore at present) for the initial design. By 1995, DRDO had spent ₹300 crore (equivalent to ₹1300 crore at present) on development due to changing requirements and inflationary cost increases.

Also, I don't think it is wise to 'blame' anyone for this. I agree that mistakes were made and things could have been better if those mistakes were not made, but playing blame games is not going to help. Playing blame games is just a never ending process which gives no outcome. 

What we should do is that in future, we should elect government representatives that will actually do what they are supposed to do. We need efficient and honest politicians and bureaucrats. I don't think that we have any shortage of skilled scientists in DRDO. DRDO has made our country proud on many different occasions. Developments like NAG Missile, QRSAM Missile, and the very recent development of a new combat drug to reduce war causalities are some examples of the capability of DRDO.

If tank development is such a complex process, then how do countries like USA and Russia manage to do it?

Countries like USA, France, Germany, Russia etc. which are the pioneers in the field of tank development have been doing it for so long. They have a 100 year old history of producing tanks. These countries have fought two world wars with tanks which has given them a lot of practical experience as to what works and what not. Even these countries did not achieve success in their first attempt. Perfection comes from a long series of trial and error, failures and frustration.

You can say that Indian developers can study and do their research, and come up with better ideas but nothing beats practical in-hand experience and countries like USA and Russia have a lot of it. 

What does the future hold?

During the Ashwamedha exercise in the deserts of Rajasthan in 2007, the army cited several deficiencies in the Arjun tanks that included "deficient fire control system", "inaccuracy of its guns", "low speeds in tactical areas" and persistent "inability to operate in temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius". But most of these problems were rectified by DRDO and were improved within 2 years.This also eventually led to the development of Arjun Mk-II, an upgraded version of the old Arjun Mk-I. It has outclassed the Russian T-90 during comparative trials.

arjun mk 2
Arjun Mk-II, By Anirvan Shukla - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Source
The Mark-II variant is being developed in coordination with and with the involvement of the Indian Army and will feature several modifications that are being sought by it. It aims to eliminate most of the technical deficiencies of the Mark-I variant.

DRDO has also developed the Tank Urban Survival Kit which is a series of improvements to the Arjun. This will improve fighting ability in urban environments which includes defensive aids like laser warning, IR jammer, and aerosol smoke grenade system.

In Conclusion

Arjun Mk-I was our first try. Everyone makes mistakes in their first try. Sure that we made very big mistakes but Arjun should be considered as a learning experience instead of a failure. Important thing is that we learn from our mistakes and improve up on them. Arjun Mk-II seems to moving in the correct direction. I hope that India will develop a lot better tanks in future.

What is your opinion on this matter? Please let us know in the comments! 
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Hi, I am Pranjay Varshney. I am pursuing my B.Sc. (Hons) in Electronic Science from University of Delhi. My dream is to join the Indian Army as an officer and I am very passionate about it. I like to write articles about Indian Armed Forces and various political and economic affairs. I spend my free time doing gymnastics, listening to music or watching movies.

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The Radical - Information That Matters: A Case Study of Arjun Tank || How Inefficient Bureaucracy and Dirty Politics Ruined a Very Important Project!
A Case Study of Arjun Tank || How Inefficient Bureaucracy and Dirty Politics Ruined a Very Important Project!
The Arjun Tank is a third generation main battle tank developed by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), for the Indian Army. This tank has been criticised by many because of the project being so costly and the tank being an underperformer as compared to the other modern tanks in the world. Many people also criticise it for being a badly designed tank for its rifled gun, lame ammunition, poor ammo storage etc. Also, a 2016 report from Comptroller and Auditor General of India said that Arjun Tanks have not been operational since 2013 due to a lack of spares. All of this has led to Arjun Mk-I Tank being hated by everyone.
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The Radical - Information That Matters
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