While Pakistan promoted the Al Khalid program, India has also launched the Arjun project.
India and Pakistan, a very complicated and tense diplomatic relationship, lasting from 1947 to the present and showing no sign of ending. The political and sovereignty conflicts between the two neighbors led to three major wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999. Today, the dispute over sovereignty of Kaskmir makes both sides always in a state of mutual caution.
Sporadic gun battles between soldiers of the two countries still occur frequently. Because relations were always in a state of instability, they all sought to improve their military power to prevail against the enemy.
Among the arms race programs, main battle tanks are considered as important weapons, because of its high efficiency in real combat. While Pakistan promoted the Al Khalid program, India has also launched the Arjun project. Since the 1970s, India has started a project to develop a new main battle tank to meet the needs of its armored force, the Arjun. It was envisioned as an impressive combination of powerful firepower, protective armor and maneuverability.
Arjun is India’s first indigenous tank and is expected to be one of the most advanced armored combat vehicles in the world. Preliminary development began in 1974, mass production and commissioning was expected in 1985. However, when embarking on the Arjun project, Indian engineers faced countless challenges. New Delhi has no technology background or foreign assistance, so almost everything has to start from scratch.
The development process took longer than originally planned, resulting in the design becoming outdated and no longer relevant to the times. Weapons and electronic systems must be redesigned or upgraded, leading to time consuming and cost increases.
It was not until 2004, 30 years after starting development, Arjun tanks were accepted into production and use in the Indian army. It can be said that Arjun is the most time-consuming main battle tank project in the world.
The tank is named after Arjun, the archer prince who is the main protagonist of the Indian epic Mahabharata. The first version was designated Arjun Mk.1, with up to 50% of the basic technologies that must be imported from abroad including, engine, gearbox, main gun, transmission and fire control system.
In terms of design, Arjun Mk.1 shares some similarities with German Leopard 2. The Indian tank weighs 58.5 tons, significantly heavier than the old Soviet tanks currently used by the Indian Army. Arjun Mk.1 uses heavy Kanchan composite armor, similar to the British Chobham armor. This helps in defeating APFDS and HEAT rounds, demonstrated in trials conducted in 2000.
If necessary, explosive reactive armor blocks may be added to provide additional protection. Arjun Mk.1 also incorporates important crew protection measures, including ammunition compartment separated from the crew with a blow-off panels in the turret bustle.
A standard crew consists of 4, including the driver, gunner, loader and commander. Overall the tank has a relatively low profile, 7 roads wheels on each track side along with armor skirts to increase the level of protection. To increase the range, additional fuel tanks can be placed at the rear of the hull.
Arjun Mk.1 is equipped with a 120 mm main rifle gun, which is said to be capable of firing APFSDS, HE, HEAT, High Explosive Squash Head at a rate of 6 to 8 rounds per minute. 39 rounds were stored in special blast-proof canisters.
In addition, Arjun is also equipped with a 12.7 mm anti-aircraft machine gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. Up to 12 smoke grenade dischargers are fitted to the rear side faces of the turret.
Powering the Indian tank is the German MTU MB 838 Ka-501 turbocharged diesel engine, developing 1,400 hp. It can reach a maximum speed of 70 km/h on flat roads.
If you look at the specifications, the Arjun Mk1 is a formidable tank. However, the integration of imported components is not easy. Arjun frequently encountered technical problems. As of mid-2015, 75% of the commissioned Arjun tanks were inoperable due to technical issues.
In 2012, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation developed a modified version, Arjun Mk.2, to address weaknesses pointed out by the Indian Ministry of Defense. In the new upgrade package, Arjun Mk.2 is able to fire Israeli-developed LAHAT missiles through the main gun.
The computerised fire control system aboard Arjun has been jointly developed by DRDO with Israeli company Elbit. The Fire Control System is stabilised on two axes, and with an extremely high hit probability replaces an earlier analogue one, which had problems due to its inability to function under the harsh desert conditions.
The Laser Warning Control System in cooperation with Elbit Limited of Israel helps to strengthen the defenses against enemy missiles, the ballistic armor system is also strengthened. In addition, the new Arjun tank is also equipped with a more compact turret, which will help reduce the signatures of the tank in the battle field and improve its survivability.
The state-of-the-art Battlefield Management System, co-developed by DRDO and Ebit Israel, allows it to network with other fighting units. The vehicle is also equipped with a new 1.500 horsepower diesel engine that helps the tank to reach a maximum speed of 65 km/h although its weight has increased to 68 tons.
Compared to the standard Arjun version, the Arjun Mk.2 has a total of 93 upgrades, including 13 major improvements, which is advertised by India as on par with today’s leading modern tanks like the German Leopard 2A7, the American M1A2 Abrams or the Russian T-90MS.
It can be seen that the battle parameters of these tanks are quite good, they are considered as opponents that can overwhelm Pakistan’s AI-Khalid tanks if confronted. Although many new solutions were used in the Arjun Mk.2 tank, the Indian Defense Ministry earlier refused to order a large number of these tanks.
Initially, the India planned to buy up to 2,000 new tanks, but the order had stopped at 124 units, there was also information that the order was only 118 units. In addition to its heavy weight, the Arjun Mk.2 has another drawback: the price is 1.5 times more expensive than the Russian T-90 price that the Indian Ministry of Defense has chosen as the main battle tank.
The Indian Army currently has about 3,700 tanks, most of them are T-72 and T-90. In the next 10 years, the T-72 tanks of the Indian Army will basically run out of service and need to be replaced. In response to this, in addition to purchasing more T-90 tanks, India is continuing to actively develop Arjun tanks to fill this gap.
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