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Is India’s Main Battle Tank Finally Doomed?

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Asia Defense

Is India’s Main Battle Tank Finally Doomed?

The Indian Army may be finally giving up on the indigenously developed Arjun main battle tank.

Is India’s Main Battle Tank Finally Doomed?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the Indian Army released a global request for information (RFI) inviting responses by 31 July to develop a multi-purpose Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) in order to replace older license-built Soviet-era main-battle tanks (MBTs).

“The Indian Army is planning to design and develop a new generation, state-of-the-art combat vehicle platform for populating its armored fighting vehicle fleet in the coming decade. This vehicle, which will be called the future ready combat vehicle (FRCV), will form the base platform for the main battle tank which is planned to replace the existing T-72 tanks in the Armored Corps,” the RFI reads.

The Indian military envisions the FRCV system as a platform for as many as 11 different tracked vehicles, including light tracked, wheeled, bridge layer and trawl tanks, self-propelled howitzers (SPH), air defense guns, artillery observation post and engineering reconnaissance vehicles, and armored ambulances.

Additionally, the RFI notes that the FRCV “should be in the ‘Medium Tank’ category” and should “match contemporary MBTs in engagement ranges, all weather day/night fighting capability, depth of penetration and variety of ammunition.” The Indian Army wants the new FRCV ready for induction by 2025-27 – a deadline that almost certainly will have to be extended given India’s  defense procurement track record.

Consequently, in the meantime, India will do well to continue upgrade its 1900 strong T-72 MBT force. As I noted in a previous article (“Breakdown: What’s Happening With India’s Tank Force?”), New Delhi has so far failed to successfully mass-produce an indigenously developed modern main battle tank.

The recent RFI could also very well ring the final death-knell for India’s indigenously developed third generation Arjun MK-I main battle tank – a poorly designed vehicle (e.g., too much heavy armor versus too little horsepower) that encountered repeated delays due to a flawed procurement and testing process. Almost eighty percent of the 124-strong Arjun MK-I tank force is currently grounded due to more than 90 technical issues.

India has been working on an improved version of the Arjun, the MK-II, which has done very well in comparative trials with license-built Russian tanks such as the T-90M. It displays more than 93 improvements over the older version and contains 60 percent locally manufactured components. However, a decision to indigenously develop a new anti-tank missile to be fitted onto the MK-II will, in all likelihood, delay the induction of the upgraded platform.

As I noted in my previous article:

Due to the repeated delays, India decided to acquire T-90s main battle tanks from Russia in the early 2000s. While the first 310 were directly imported from Russia, India is currently locally producing a customized and improved version of the T-90, the T-90 M Bhishma. A total of 500 T-90 and T-90 M tanks are currently in service in the Indian Army. India plans to field 21 tank regiments of T-90s by 2020 through license-production, with 62 tanks per unit and more than 1,300 armored fighting vehicles total, although that number could go up.