Tank Buy, Missile Test Boost Indian DRDO
BENGALURU, India — The Indian army’s decision to order 124 additional Arjun main battle tanks and the successful launch of the nuclear-capable Agni-II ballistic missile by Strategic Forces Command (SFC) is seen as a shot in the arm for the country’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).
Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony, a staunch campaigner for indigenous military programs, said that the army’s decision to induct more Arjuns was its own, and signals that the tank is finally “coming of age.”
Senior officials at DRDO headquarters reacted cautiously to the news. With a series of changes waiting in the wings following the recent restructuring of DRDO (Aerospace DAILY, May 14), most of the DRDO think tanks are adopting a wait-and-see approach.
“Getting additional orders [for] Arjun is definitely a step that will boost the morale of DRDO, considering what we had [been] through over the years,” an official says. “We were sure after the comparative trials that some orders [would] come through.”
When asked whether DRDO was disappointed with the number of tanks ordered, which was less than some had expected, the official says: “Let’s wait and see. The product will speak for itself.”
The Arjun project was sanctioned in 1974, and following many internal battles the program finally bagged an initial order for 124 tanks in 2000. The army had problems with the tank’s weight and fire control system, and critics were quick to write off the machine. However, DRDO’s persistence paid off despite the media onslaught and an upset user.
The comparative trials in March against Russian T-90S tanks were the last hope for DRDO on the program; the machine emerged victorious after some extreme desert trials. “Arjun outperformed the Russian tank in almost all departments and finally [the army] was convinced [of] the worth of the Indian tank,” a source says.
Though DRDO was pitching three to four times more than the current order, it is pleased with what it got. “This is the best of a bad deal after so many trials and modifications,” former DRDO Chief Advisor K.G. Narayanan tells AVIATION WEEK. “With the current order, the total Arjun MBTs would go up to 248. The order could have been more, maybe 500-plus, but then it is a good sign that an Indian machine has finally proved its battleworthiness.”
Each Arjun costs around Rs 16 crore ($3.6 million
), and DRDO is confident that the cost will come down if orders increase. “In production parlance, more orders means less cost and we are confident that it’s a matter of time before we get further orders,” a source says.
The government’s announcement of a next-generation Mark-II version of the Arjun has further boosted morale at DRDO. “After many years of trials, 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 and accurately hitting stationary and moving targets,” a defense ministry spokesperson says.
In addition to Arjun, “we hope DRDO’s critics would sit down and take stock of the success of our missile programs,” sources say. “The recent Agni-2 [test] was a perfect, textbook launch and it was part of [a] user training mission. The missile was tested for its full range [2,000 km.] and the 660-second flight matched all that we wanted.” The previous two launches of the missile were a failure.
“In a span of just five months, the SFC had successfully launched Agni-I (700-km.-range), Agni-II and Agni-III [3,500-km.-range] and [do not] forget the vertical launch of [the] BrahMos missile, this March,” sources add.