MBT Arjun is a formidable tank, but can it replace Russian made T-90?
Battle tanks can be deadly war machines in certain kinds of terrains. A division of tanks can lend a powerful support to the infantry and crush the enemy defences when used in right conditions and terrain. In India's context, tank divisions are mostly used in borders areas of Rajasthan where desert poses a major challenge for other equipments to be moved into position in the event of war. Tanks are used both for offensive and defensive maneuvers of the army.
Most of India's tank fleet comprises of Russian made T-90s which is a modern variation of the T-72B and incorporates many features found on the T-80U. The T-90M Bhishma is a vehicle tailored for Indian service, improving upon the T-90S, and developed with assistance from Russia and France. The tanks are equipped with the French Thales-built Catherine-FC thermal sights, and utilise Russian Kontakt-5 K-5 explosive reactive armoured plates.
Our focus here is on ingenuously made Main Battle Tank Arjun. It is a state-of-the-art tank with superior firepower, high mobility, and excellent protection. The superior armour defeating capability of the ingenuously developed Fin Stabilized Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot (FSAPDS) ammunition and 120 mm caliber rifled gun give MBT ARJUN an edge over contemporary world tanks. A computer-controlled integrated fire control system incorporating day-cum-night stabilized sighting system guarantees a very high first round hit probability and reduced reaction time to bring effective fire on targets.
The Arjun entered service with the Indian Army in 2004. The tanks were first inducted into the 43 Armoured Regiment, Indian Army Armoured Corps while the latest induction has been into the 75 Armoured Regiment on 12 March 2011.
The reason why the Indian Army relies heavily on T-90s is because of considerable delays and other problems in Arjun's development from the 1990s to the 2000s. This prompted the Indian Army to order T-90S tanks from Russia to meet requirements that the Arjun had been expected to fulfill.
In March and April 2010, comparative trials on the maneuverability of the Arjun MBT and the Russian T-90 tank in Rajasthan deserts resulted in a better performance from the Arjun tank.
Arjun vs T-90
If we compare specifications of Arjun and T-90, then we can see that Arjun is far more heavier than T-90. But, at the same time, Arjun has a 1400 hp engine as compared to 950 hp engine of T-90, which explains why the top speed of Arjun is 72 km/h, whereas that of T-90 is 60 km/h.
Arjun requires a crew of four to operate - commander, gunner, loader and driver. T-90 needs a crew of three to operate.
It was also reported that T-90s have had performance issues in extremely hot weather. Recent comments from Army sources indicate that the Russian T-90S will form the mainstay of its future force, despite that tank's performance issues in hot weather.
Although a formidable tank, Arjun (the original version) has had issues. The Arjun faced persistent problems of overheating and that "tank's main subsystems, the fire control system (FCS), the suspension system, integrated gunner's main sight, which includes a thermal imager and laser range-finder, which were rendered erratic and useless by the abnormally high peak internal temperature of beyond 55 °C in India.
Arjun Mk II
Recently, the Army had asked for 93 improvements in Arjun tank which includes the capability of firing the anti-tank LAHAT missile, laser protection suite and improved armoured protection for the vehicle.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chairman S Christopher last year said necessary modifications have been made to the advanced version of the indigenous Arjun Mark II main battle tank as recommended by the Army.
Arjun Mark II is the modified version of Arjun. As per DRDO, Arjun Mark II can fire missiles, has advanced explosive reactive armour panels, mine plough, automatic target tracking, advanced land navigation system, digital control harness and advanced commander panoramic sight among other features.
The Arjun Mark II is an advanced third generation tank. Its development was completed in 2 years owing to experience gained from developing the first version. It has outclassed the T-90 during comparative trials.
Regarding the trials, a Ministry of Defence press release reported: "After many years of trial and tribulation it has now proved its worth by its superb performance under various circumstances, such as driving cross-country over rugged sand dunes, detecting, observing and quickly engaging targets, accurately hitting targets, both stationary and moving, with pin pointed accuracy. Its superior fire-power is based on accurate and quick target acquisition capability during day and night in all types of weather and shortest possible reaction time during combat engagements".
The Fire control system of the new tank has a hit probability over 90%, when firing on the move. The new tank also has improved communication systems and new navigation system.
So as of now it looks like Arjun MK 2 is the tank that the army is looking for. But, the production of tanks take time, so it may not be able to replace T90s completely in near future. The army has shown confidence in the performance of Arjun MK 2, and will acquire more of them as they become available.