The Indian Army is finally going to induct 118 Arjun Mk-1A main battle tanks in a deal with the Ordnance Factories Board, with the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Chennai on Sunday.
Along with the handing over of the modernised Arjun tanks, the PM will also inaugurate and lay foundation of several other projects in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
However, an order of just 118 tanks is questioned by many experts, as the tank requirement of the Army is much higher; whereas many see it as a good stepping stone for future procurements and a boost in the development of next-generation combat vehicles and a bigger order could follow.
The development of the Arjun Mk-1A tank has been an exhaustive and long-awaited process of about 48 years, since the commencement of the project at CVRDE (Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment) laboratories in 1972. It was only in 1996 that the Indian government decided to mass-produce the tank at Indian Ordnance Factory’s production facility in Avadi.
The Arjun tanks have seen a lot of improvement since its first variant, the Arjun Mk-1. The Mk-1, being the initial production batch, went extensive trials and paved way for the development of the Mk-1A and subsequently the Mk-2 (re-designated to Mk-1A). While weight has been termed as the primary issue for the tank, its ground pressure is lesser than that of the T-72 due to inherent design features.
The Arjun had been developed focusing on increased protection against emerging threats of the new century. The turret and glacis are protected with “Kanchan” (“gold”) modular composite armour, which derived its name from Kanchan Bagh, Hyderabad, where the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL) is located. Kanchan is made by sandwiching composite panels between Rolled Homogenous Armour (RHA). This helps in defeating APFDS and HEAT rounds. Trials conducted in 2000, showcased the ability of Kanchan armour to protect the tank, even when hit at point blank range by a T-72. It also demonstrated the capability to defeat HESH and APFSDS rounds, which included the Israeli APFSDS rounds. A new honeycomb design of Non-Explosive and Non-Energetic Reactive Armour (NERA) along with nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection equipment, along with mine sweeps and an automatic fire fighting system are set up on the Arjun Mark II/Mk-1A.
However, there have been a lot of confusion about the tank’s designation. According to some sources, the newer Mk-2 is now called the Mk-1A variant, confirmed by the recent images revealed of the preparations at Chennai for PM Modi’s visit. In August 2014, The apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) renewed a ₹6,600 crore clearance for 118 Arjun Mark II (now called Mk-1A) tanks. Indian Army Armoured Corps has cleared the upgraded Arjun Mk.1A (earlier called Mk-II) after successful completion of final integration tests conducted on 2019 in Rajasthan. It comes with 72 improvements over Arjun Mk.1 with 14 major upgrades.
The major upgrades are missile-firing capability against long-range targets, panoramic sight with night vision to engage targets effectively at night, containerisation of the ammunition, enhanced main weapon penetration; additional ammunition types, explosive reactive armour, an advanced air-defence gun to engage helicopters; a mine plough, an advanced land navigation system and a warning system which can fire smoke grenades to confuse laser guidance.