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What do India’s operational trials for Arjun Mark-II mean for international industry?

Contributor: Simon Wigfield

It has been recently announced that India’s Arjun Mark-II has begun operational trials at the Pokhran ranges in Rajasthan with a final delivery date planned for 2014. For me, there are 3 questions that instantly spring to mind:

  • Will the trialled capabilities meet the mark for predicted performance?
  • How realistic is it to presume this deadline will be met?
  • Why not simply procure from international industry?


Like most Indian Defence press releases, the announcement is presented in meagre outline form – the most detailed elements report that modifications simply include ‘sighting facilities’, ‘night vision capabilities’ and ‘improved communication systems’ as well as a laser homing device. While some may argue that the vagueness of such announcements implies that the Defence Ministry is looking to skip over the details – either in fear of announcing an operational weakness to the public sphere, or that they just don’t know exactly what level of capability they should be looking to meet – it is just as likely that India is taking the prudent tact in testing and evaluating all new developments before elaborating on those specific elements. Of course, the public perception of T&E reports are often at odds with the military’s (as most engineers will tell you!).

In answering the second question, timeliness of delivery is definitely open to debate – given the level of assessment, reassessment and general perfection over which India seems to obsess. With the Arjun Mark I taking 30 years from concept to completion, expecting the Mark II to be combat-ready in 4 years is a pretty massive expectation, especially given the large number of issues demonstrated by the Arjun Mark I’s operational capabilities in recent years. This may seem a little cut-throat. However, if we take the evidence in hand (as any analyst would do) it’s clear to see the DRDO have a big task ahead of them if they’re playing this by the book.

The final question I find the most difficult. This year, India has increased its defence budget by 12%, taking it to $34Billion for 2011. This demonstrates to me and the rest of the defence analyst world that India is one of the largest emerging defence markets. With all this money on the table, why don’t the Indian Armed Forces procure more from international industry? This would ensure a certain level of security, both in terms of quality of production, and in many cases, reliable delivery dates. This is exactly what Lieutenant General J.P Singh, Deputy Chief of Staff, Indian Army is hoping to introduce, having given a slight insight at last year’s Armoured Vehicles India event. At this year’s conference he is expected to give his perspectives on each of the questions presented above, and hopefully in greater detail than the recent press release!


5 responses to “What do India’s operational trials for Arjun Mark-II mean for international industry?

  1. Pingback: The Indian Armoured Vehicles Market: the Largest Tank Force in Eurasia? « Defence IQ's Blog

  2. Mehtaj September 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Mr. Simon, let me answer one of your question. “Why not simply procure from international industry?” If a country has all the technologies and resources to manufacture it’s indigenous Main Battle Tank, then why would it look for international industries? Rather then first it will produce the required number of MBT for it’s army and will try to market and export it to friendly countries.

  3. Simon Wigfield September 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Hi Mehtaj, thanks for your comment. I agree it would be more beneficial for the India to produce indigenously due to more jobs, cheaper costs, exporting products, technological investment etc. However, I do believe that indigenous Arjuns have lacked the capabilities and reliability found in such platforms as the Merkava MK4. To me, I still feel international industry is ahead of the game…. yet the argument against this is if you don’t procure indigenously this sector would never catch up… its a bit of a catch 22.

  4. Naveen Kumar K September 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Hello Mr. Simon,

    I will get to your questions straight away.
    1. Will the trialled capabilities meet the mark for predicted performance?
    We will have to wait and see about it. But as per the news articles that I have read, Arjun Mk-II seems to have out performed T-90 in the recent comparative trails conducted between T-90 and Arjun []. A few high ranking generals were quoted to be very satisfied and Arjun has performed better than their expectations. Even though these statements are too vague to conclude that Arjun is the best, but its a start. When it comes to procuring weapons Indian Army’s evaluation techniques for the same are very stringent and are not ready to compromise even on the smallest detail. They have once compromised on Arjun-I due to top level pressure and I hope they will not compromise on Arjun-II this time, keeping in mind the escalating tensions with Pak and China. One of the DRDO scientist working on Arjun claims that they are trying to compete with the best of the tanks that are available in the world and design and make Arjun the best. Now that they are competing with the best, I am assuming that they are going in the right direction. But all these statements can only be proved if we can get to know the numbers of the comparative trails that were conducted a few months back.

    2. How realistic is it to presume this deadline will be met?
    DRDO have faced a lot of criticism on this point and they seem to be catching up on this issue. This can be seen a little, when it comes to meeting the deadlines related to the Missiles, etc, the DRDO is working on. I just hope they realize the gravity of meeting the deadlines on the forces.

    3. Why not simply procure from international industry?
    I agree with Mr. Mehtaj on this. When India has the capability to build its own tanks then why depend on other countries. Moreover DRDO seems to be taking foreign help form Israel’s Merkava manufacturers and Germany’s Leopard tank manufacturers on the up-gradation of Arjun-II and its capabilities [].
    Moreover as you want, India is also procuring from international industry. Apart from upgrading its entire T-71 fleet India has also placed an order for 1000 more T-90 tanks, which is under progress []. So, there’s nothing wrong in developing our own tank. For now, I guess there are enough tanks to take care of India.. 🙂 I guess its just the time for us to stop building other country’s economies and defences and concentrate on our own 😉 I hope you agree..

    I hope my reply satisfies you at least to some extent.

    I have a request, can you please post Lieutenant General J.P Singh’s comments given during the Armoured Vehicles India event?


    ~Naveen Kumar K

  5. Simon Wigfield October 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Hi Naveen,

    I agree with your views on the Arjun MKII, have read updated articles on the matter, it appears that it is of a significant quality! Again, to truly understand the value of the MBT we need to see its comparison against existing MBT platforms. The head of the Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment for the DRDO will be giving a presentation at the conference, hopefully we might find out a little more about how the capabilities have faired against the trials.

    I am almost certain that the DRDO have upped their game so to speak, there cannot be a repeat of the Arjun MK I’s time line. This cost a large amount of money and left the Indian Army with a large capability gap. The pressure is on, but having spoken to quite a few members of the DRDO and Directorate Mech. Forces it appears everything is going to plan!

    In regards to international industry, this is a tough one. I appear to be slowly being turned towards indigenous construction. Of course, indigenous procurement is beneficial to all parties within that nation; however it depends on the success of the implementation. Buying existing, combat proven vehicles off the shelf, so the speak, provides security and at a lower price, yet bespoke platforms provide you with your exact requirements. The downside of this is cost, time and quality of capability. If cost is low, time line is short and top quality can be assured, then I agree indigenous procurement is the way to go. If not it provides a very large economic and capability headache!
    LT Gen Singh’s comments will of course be analysed as the next step to this blog, I guess we will soon see which direction the Indian Army is going to take!

    I thank you kindly for your comment, and welcome any further thoughts!


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