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Heavier, more lethal Arjun tank poised for trials

Ajai Shukla  |  Avadi (Chennai) 

Indigenously developed Mark-II gets critical acclaim from army, experts abroad.

A heavier, more protected Arjun tank, called the Arjun Mark II, is poised for army trials. Scheduled for January and June 2012, successful trials would be the green signal for building 124 Arjun Mark IIs at the Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi, outside Chennai. These will supplement the 124 Arjuns Mark I already in frontline service.

Preparing the new Arjun for trials is the Central Vehicle R&D Establishment (CVRDE), Avadi, which steered the Arjun through a difficult and delayed development process; to its emergence as India’s premier main battle tank (MBT).

In March 2010, after the Arjun outperformed the vaunted Russian T-90S in performance trials in Rajasthan, an impressed Indian Army accepted 124 Arjuns into service. But the army has made a follow-on order conditional upon 93 improvements to the Arjun, including 19 major modifications. The CVRDE is finalising these modifications.

Business Standard visited Avadi for the media’s first detailed briefing and inspection of the Arjun Mark II. The Arjun Mark II’s most remarkable feature is its extra weight, 3-4 tonnes more than the earlier 62-tonne Arjun.

For years the army criticised the Arjun as too heavy for India’s road and rail infrastructure; now it wants modifications that will make the Arjun heavier. Fitting Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) plates on the tank has boosted crew protection, but also increases the weight by one and a half tonnes. An equivalent increase comes from added mine ploughs, which churn up the ground ahead of the tank, uprooting explosive mines that would otherwise blow up the tank.

But the Arjun Project leaders, V Balamurugan and GK Kumaravel, are unfazed by the weight gain. During gruelling trials this summer, the Arjun has demonstrated a crucial modification in the transmission system that makes the 65-66 tonne Arjun Mark II more agile than the lighter, 62-tonne Arjun Mark I. “We ran the modified Arjun for 1,300 kilometres, gradually loading dead weight until it was 65.5 tonnes. We demonstrated that its performance, acceleration, torque, working temperature and fuel consumption were better than the Arjun Mark I,” claimed Balamurugan.

The trade-off, though, is in maximum speed. The Arjun Mark II does just 60 kmph, compared with the 70 kmph top speed of the Arjun Mark I.

CVRDE chief, Dr P Sivakumar, an award-winning transmission specialist, is jubilant. “Earlier the army was criticising my Arjun [for weighing too much]. But, after seeing its cross-country performance, even compared with a lighter 40-tonne tank like the T-90, they realise that the Arjun moves like a Ferrari. Even at 65-66 tonnes, it will beat any MBT in the desert,” he promises.

That is endorsed by Israel Military Industries (IMI), which did a “third-party evaluation” of the Arjun. Israeli experts opine that the Arjun would outrun any competition.

Another crucial improvement in the Mark II is the tank commander’s thermal imaging (TI) night sight, which replaces the day-only sight of the earlier Arjun. Now the Arjun can operate at night in “hunter-killer” mode — the commander as hunter; and the gunner as killer. The commander scans the battlefield through his new TI sight; targets that he spots are electronically allocated to the gunner to destroy, while he returns to hunting for more targets.

The Mark II also equips the driver with a new night vision device based on “un-cooled thermal imaging”, allowing him to clearly see 300-500 metres, even on a pitch-dark night. The man who oversees the Arjun project, DRDO’s Chief Controller for Armament and Combat Engineering (CC-ACE), S Sundaresh, says: “Four major modifications — the mobility performance at 65.5 tonnes; the commander’s night sight; the driver’s night vision device, and ammunition containerisation — were validated this summer.”

Coming up for trials in January is an important new capability: missile firing through the Arjun Mark II’s main gun. Israeli LAHAT missiles were proof-fired from the Arjun in 2004, but the sighting and control systems are now being integrated into the gunner’s sight by its vendors, OIP Sensor Systems (Belgium) and SAGEM (France).

Just one crucial system will remain to be integrated after next year’s trials: a “laser warning counter measure system.” This senses the laser beam that incoming missiles ride, giving just 10-15 seconds of reaction time. Within milliseconds, the system automatically launches smoke grenades, creating a smokescreen around one’s own tank that leaves the missile operator without a target to aim at.

First Published: Thu, November 24 2011. 00:49 IST