Indian Army Wants to Add Another 1,000 T-90S Tanks by 2020 (updated)
India’s main battle tanks had one been relatively advanced by world standards, but long delays in fielding the indigenous “Arjun” MBT, combined with a successful Pakistani/Ukrainian program for its T-80UD “Al-Khalid” tanks, eroded India’s local advantage. The poor performance of T-72s in combat against modern main battle tanks could not have been comforting, either. In early October 2006, India Defence and Indian papers reported that the Indian Army intended to produce nearly 1,000 T90S ‘Bhishma’ main battle tanks in India by 2020. These would be bought in addition to the 310 T90 MBTs already under contract from Russia. Later that month, news reports noted a follow-on contract for another 330 T-90S tank kits from Russia that would assembled in India. Taken together those 2 firm production agreements reportedly exceed $1 billion.
The modernized T-72 now known as the T-90 has reportedly encountered serious problems in Indian service, from issues with its Thales thermal imaging systems, to difficulties in hot weather, to low readiness rates. Meanwhile, negotiations with Russia over technology transfer issues had shelved the 1,000 tank indigenous production goal, leaving only the 2 firm production agreements. The Arjun project has continued to fade, however, with the Indian Army announcing in July 2008 that production would be capped at just 124 tanks. As the final act in the battle for the core of India’s future tank force, recent reports indicate that the Russians have removed their technology transfer roadblocks, clearing the way for fully indigenous T-90S production in India…
- The T-90 in India: Directions and Delays
- Updates and Key Events
The T-90 in India: Directions and Delays
As of December 2006, the 310 T-90S tanks imported from Russia under a February 2001 Rs 3,625 crore (about $795 million) contract are divided between the first lot of 124 T-90S tanks bought off-the-shelf, and 186 imported in knocked-down condition for assembly at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi.
The goal was to begin progressive manufacture of the follow-on batch of 1,000 from 2007-2008 onward, working under the license production agreement associated with India’s 2001 order. The idea was to build upon and broaden India’s indigenous capabilities as the process moved forward.
The purchase of 330 more ready-for-assembly T-90 kits later in October 2006 would appear to be a deviation from this strategy, but as of August 2008, production of the fully localized Indian tanks has not even begun yet at the Avadi Heavy Vehicles Factory. Jane’s believed that the order for the 330 sets of T-90S components was driven by chronic delays in the production schedule of the domestic Arjun MBT, and multi-year delays in T-72 modernization due to bureaucratic vacillation. This turned out to be partly correct; as DID has reported before, those are chronic problems in India’s defense market. It seems that there was also a problem with full Russian technology transfer, however, which held up production at Avadi.
Confirmation of the T-90’s status as India’s future tank has also faced operational difficulties, including the in-service difficulties noted by an October 2007 MosNews’ report. These include repeated heat-related malfunctions of the fire-control system’s key Thales Catherine thermal imaging (TI) camera, lack of cooling systems leading to uninhabitable temperatures over 60C degrees (over 140F) inside the tank, and reports that at least one armored regiment had an in-service rate of just 25% for its T-90s.
The T-72s’ “Project Rhino” may eventually get started as well under the Army’s 2020 plans, adding reactive armor, electronics, sights, et. al. in collaboration with Israel, Poland and Russia. Persistent reports that many Indian T-72s lack effective IR-imagine equipment would appear to make such upgrades a priority item, but as Bharat-Rakshak notes, progress has been very slow.
Updates and Key Events
Oct 18/12: Invar. India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) clears a Rs 8,000 crore budget that will buy 200 or so air-launched BrahMos long-range supersonic strike missiles, and 20,000 Invar 9M119M/M1 missiles that are fired from the 125mm barrels of India’s T-90S tanks. The Rs 2,000 crore ($400 million) Invar missile purchase is expected to be divided evenly between Russian production, and licensed production by Bharat Dynamics.
India’s armed forces have been complaining of a severe shortage of tank ammunition, and the Invar missile purchase is expected to help offset that somewhat, while providing long-range accuracy and helicopter-killing capabilities. The tandem-warhead Invar is closely derived from the laser beam riding 9M119 Refleks (T-90)/ Svir (T-72) family of missiles, and reportedly adds semi-active laser designation, which allows for more flexible tactical options. NATO’s designations consider it to be part of the same AT-11 Sniper series, and the US Army’s FM 3-19.4 lists the Konkurs-M’s effective range as being up to 5 km/ 3.1 miles.
Aug 20/08: At the 8th meeting of the Indo-Russian working group on shipbuilding, aviation and land systems, Russia agreed to full product support for indigenous production of T-90S tanks, including the urgent requirement of specification of T-90 gun barrels Those specifications will reportedly be delivered by December 2008, clearing the way for full T-90S production in India.
The meeting also finalized indigenization requirements for the Russian AT-14 Konkur missile systems and a computerised advanced information system for India’s new range of P-17 warships, while discussing more contentious issues like the Gorshkov carrier contract and the FGFA “5th generation fighter aircraft” joint project. Yahoo! India | Outlook India | Zee News.
July 7/08: India’s army decides to cap production of the Arjun tank at just 124 vehicles. T-90 tanks will be the mainstay of India’s future tank force instead at 1,657 vehicles planned, despite ongoing issues with operations in hot weather. This overall plan changes the force structure proposed in 2006, from 3,780 tanks (1,302 T-90s and 2,480 T-72s) to 2,473 higher-end tanks (1,657 T-90 Bhishma, 124 Arjun tanks, and 692 upgraded T-72M1 Ajeya)
Read “India Plans to Cap Arjun Tank Production” for more.
Aug 29/07: India’s MoD issues a press release:
“Heavy Vehicles Factory has so far supplied 181 T-90 tanks to Army. No technical problems viz barrel bursting has been observed in T90 tanks. The problem of barrel bursting was noticed earlier in T-72 tank. The bursting of barrel in T-72 tanks occurred in barrels of Russian origin as well as of Indian origin. The problem was analysed in consultation with Russian experts and remedial action towards modifying the chemistry of material has been taken. This information was given by the Minister of State for Defence Production Rao Inderjit Singh in a written reply to Shri A Krishna Swamy and Shri Kuldeep Bishnoi in Lok Sabha today.”
May 16/07: Frontier India reports that India’s T-90S tanks continue to have problems with their torsion bar suspensions.
Note that the swastika was used in India for many centuries before the Germans ever got hold of it; it has a rather different meaning (“sun”) there.
Oct 27/06: A MosNews article “India Buys 330 Russian Tanks” reports that India is buying another 330 T-90s in kit condition, for final assembly in India. It adds that deliveries of the initial 124 T-90S tanks under the previous 310 vehicle order:
“…began in December 2002 and were completed within 12-14 months, while another 180 MBTs have since been assembled at Avadi and the first part of the order is nearing completion. The T-90S tanks have been inducted into six armored regiments in northern and central India.”
Oct 4/06: India Defence:
“…the Indian Army is to acquire nearly 1000 locally produced T90S Bhishma MBT’s by the year 2020, in addition to the 310 T90 MBT’s procured from Russia.
The Times of India Reports: The Army gameplan is to have 21 regiments of T-90S ‘Bhishma’ tanks and 40 regiments of upgraded T-72 M1 ‘Ajeya’ tanks by 2020 since the “speed and shock effect” of mechanised forces will continue to play a decisive role in future wars, say sources.
An armoured regiment typically has 45 tanks, along with another 17 for training purposes, war reserves and replacements. So, the 1.13-million Army intends to face future armoured battles with a mix of around 3,800 T-90S and T-72 tanks.”
Additional Readings & Sources
- The Armor Site – T90S main battle tank. In India, they are known as “Bhishma.”
- Bharat Rakshak – T-72M1 Main Battle Tank, aka. “Ajeya”
- Bharat Rakshak – Arjun MK.I Main Battle Tank
- Wikipedia – Arjun MBT. Pretty good article.
- Global Security – T-80UD (Pakistan’s “Al-Khalid” tank)
- Business Standard (Apr 22/08) – Ajai Shukla: Friendly fire damages the Arjun “Operating military equipment is fraught with danger and upgrading is a continuous process. But the army’s tolerance for Russian defects contrasts starkly with its impatience for the Arjun.”
- Rediff (April 19/08) – India’s battle tank of future & love for Russia. The article claims that India’s Army prefers the Russian tanks, and is being less than honest in reporting problems with the Arjun, while avoiding the head-to-head trials it has promised.
- India Strategic (January 2008) – India buys 347 T-90 Tanks. Includes longer-term plans to buy the Invar gun-fired missile.
- NDTV (Dec 21/06) – Army plans for T-90s in jeopardy. “…problems in setting up the assembly line at the Heavy Tank Factory Avadi in Tamil Nadu are crippling modernisation plans.” This may also help to explain the additional Russian orders…
- DID (Nov 17/06) – India’s DRDO Rethinking the Way it Does Business. Contains a very extensive set of links to articles covering India’s defense sector and its organizational/ program issues.
- The Indian Express (Nov 14/06) – Arjun, Main Battle Tanked. The paper is less than enthusiastic about the tank’s chances and the program’s readiness, despite existing contracts for 124 machines.
- MosNews (Oct 27/06) – India Buys 330 Russian Tanks
- The Hindu (Oct 12/06) – Full scale production of Arjun to begin soon: Rao
- StaretgyPage (May 30/06) – Arjun, the Big Tank That Couldn’t
- Defence Journal (September 2001) – India’s indigenous tank production – a stalled effort. By Lt Gen (Retd) Srdar FS Lodi
(Originally published October 10, 2006; updated as new information was received)