India — Modernisation of the Mechanised Forces (Armour)

Cur­rent status

The equip­ping phi­los­o­phy of the army is gov­erned by the 30:40:30 con­cept, where­in 30 per cent com­prise of the obso­les­cent tech­nol­o­gy equip­ment, 40 per cent is the main­stay matured tech­nol­o­gy equip­ment and the bal­ance 30 per cent of the state-of-the-art equip­ment. This ensures the grad­ual mod­erni­sa­tion of the equip­ment and a smooth induc­tion of new tech­nol­o­gy equip­ment to ensure that the army main­tains its oper­a­tional edge over our like­ly adversaries.

Design and man­u­fac­ture of tanks is a com­plex process which has a long ges­ta­tion peri­od and requires a strong R and D and indus­tri­al base. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, in both these aspects India lagged behind the few tank man­u­fac­tur­ing coun­tries in the world. It was only in 1974 that the project of design and devel­op­ment of an indige­nous tank was tak­en up in the earnest. After a pro­tract­ed delay of near­ly 35 years the first reg­i­ment equipped with Arjun tanks was intro­duced into ser­vice in 2009 after the users were ful­ly sat­is­fied with its capabilities.

Today, the cur­rent hold­ing of tanks exceeds 3,000 com­pris­ing of a few reg­i­ments of T‑55 tanks, the main­stay being the T‑72 M1 and a num­ber of reg­i­ments of the state-ofthe- art T‑90S tanks and the indige­nous Arjun tank.

Mod­erni­sa­tion programmes

The mod­erni­sa­tion schemes for the tank T‑72 M1 include the instal­la­tion of ther­mal image inte­grat­ed fire con­trol sys­tem (TIFCS), uprat­ed engine with a min­i­mum 1,000 HP and a com­man­ders ther­mal imag­ing sight. For all tanks the endeav­our is to pro­vide an APFSDS ammu­ni­tion hav­ing a high­er pen­e­tra­tion and the APAM round. To ensure that ground and aer­i­al tar­gets are engaged with­out expos­ing the crew the anti-air­craft Remote Weapon Sta­tion with a 12.7 mm MG would be fitted.


In the future bat­tle­field sur­viv­abil­i­ty would be the key to suc­cess. Hence all tanks would be fit­ted with the ADS to ensure their sur­viv­abil­i­ty against CE ammu­ni­tion attack includ­ing mis­siles. Bet­ter pas­sive pro­tec­tion would be pro­vid­ed with the fit­ment of ERA pan­els, mobile cam­ou­flage sys­tems and the advanced laser warn­ing sys­tem con­nect­ed to the aerosol anti-ther­mal anti-laser smoke grenade dis­charg­er system.

Future equip­ment profile

The T‑72 M1 (Mod­ernised), T‑90S (upgrad­ed) and the Arjun MK-II will be the main­stay for the mech­a­nised forces for the next three decades. Mod­erni­sa­tion / upgra­da­tion is an on going process for the tanks to main­tain their supe­ri­or­i­ty in the bat­tle­field. Ide­al­ly upgra­da­tion schemes are imple­ment­ed when tanks are due for peri­od­ic over­haul. How­ev­er keep­ing in view the large num­bers of T‑72 M1 tanks and the lim­it­ed capa­bil­i­ty to over­haul, this process may not be pos­si­ble. Hence the two would have to be done con­cur­rent­ly. To speed up the process the alter­nate method is to involve the pri­vate sec­tor to take on one of the two tasks.

Arjun MK-II

The upgra­da­tion of the Arjun tank is well under­way and by 2012 the pro­to­type of Arjun MK-II would be field­ed for tri­als. The most impor­tant aspect is the abil­i­ty to fire the mis­sile from the bar­rel of the gun. Though this was proven ear­li­er the same needs to be ful­ly inte­grat­ed with the FCS. So also is the upgra­da­tion of the APFSDS ammu­ni­tion and the devel­op­ment of the APAM and the anti heli­copter ammu­ni­tion. Arjun’s Kan­chan armour is among the world’s best, but there is a scope of improve­ment by fit­ting explo­sive, non- ener­getic reac­tive armour to fur­ther enhance its pro­tec­tion. Apart from the ADS, the mobile cam­ou­flage sys­tem and the advance laser warn­ing sys­tem will fur­ther enhance its sur­viv­abil­i­ty. Strate­gic and oper­a­tional mobil­i­ty have been pro­vid­ed by the intro­duc­tion of the new rail­way rakes and a 60 tonne tank trans­porter. Most of the sub-assem­blies are now being man­u­fac­tured in India there­by reduc­ing its import con­tent. To fur­ther exploit the suc­cess of Arjun its vari­ants such as ARV, BLT, trawls etc. must be intro­duced at the ear­li­est. The expe­ri­ence gained on this project would be gain­ful­ly employed in the design and devel­op­ment of the future MBT (FMBT).

Light tank

The case for intro­duc­ing into ser­vice a light tank has been amply jus­ti­fied. Lim­it­ed num­ber of light tanks would be required along our north­ern bor­ders as also for OOAC. The great­est spin-off would be if a com­mon wheeled chas­sis could be devel­oped for the light tank, wheeled APC, SP Gun, AERV and a host of com­mand and con­trol vehi­cles. This would pro­vide the hold­ing and strike Corps in the moun­tains the desired flex­i­bil­i­ty to exe­cute their task.

Recon­nais­sance vehicles

The most crit­i­cal func­tion in the future bat­tle­field is the acqui­si­tion of real time intel­li­gence. Where­as a lot of infor­ma­tion would be avail­able by elec­tron­ic means from high­er HQ’s, the Com­man­dant of an armoured reg­i­ment relies heav­i­ly on his own eyes and ears. For this it is imper­a­tive that the rec­ce troop of an armoured reg­i­ment is appro­pri­ate­ly equipped with a spe­cial­ist vehi­cle which has the abil­i­ty to sur­vive in a hos­tile envi­ron­ment and pro­vide elec­tro-opti­cal sur­veil­lance. A num­ber of such suit­able vehi­cles are avail­able in the world mar­ket and can be man­u­fac­tured in India to suit our spe­cif­ic requirement.


Any coun­try takes 10–12 years of design and devel­op­ment for an FMBT to reach the pro­duc­tion stage. Work has already com­menced to ensure that it fruc­ti­fies by 2020 so as to be able to replace the T‑72 M1 tank. With the expe­ri­ence gained with the Arjun tank project this is an achiev­able tar­get if a ded­i­cat­ed team of sci­en­tists and users are exclu­sive­ly ear­marked for the project.


The rel­e­vance of the tank in the future bat­tle­field has been ques­tioned in var­i­ous forums over the past four decades espe­cial­ly since the advent of the hand-held anti-tank mis­siles. A sim­i­lar debate was ini­ti­at­ed on the future of ships when mis­siles were first intro­duced in the 1950’s. Both weapon sys­tems have sur­vived and remain rel­e­vant, as for every new weapon sys­tem devel­oped a counter sys­tem is already on the draw­ing board. Hence the future of the tank espe­cial­ly in the sub-con­ti­nent is undis­put­ed. What how­ev­er needs to be ensured is that the most effec­tive weapon sys­tem is field­ed in the appro­pri­ate ter­rain and oper­at­ing con­di­tions. In war there is no prize for run­ners-up, hence to ensure fool-proof nation­al secu­ri­ty over the full spec­trum of oper­a­tions capa­bil­i­ties must be devel­oped to field the best and the most appro­pri­ate equip­ment for the mech­a­nised forces. 

About the Author:
Lt Gen Dilip Bhard­waj PVSM, AVSM (retd)
The writer, a high­ly respect­ed for­mer Direc­tor Gen­er­al of the Mech­a­nised Forces, crys­tal gazes into the future of the Tank in the Indi­an con­text. He extrap­o­lates from the expe­ri­ence of recent con­flicts to define the type of tanks we will need in the years ahead. He states emphat­i­cal­ly that the “one size fits all” con­cept is not pos­si­ble and there­fore we would in the future need dif­fer­ent types of tanks and infantry fight­ing vehi­cles. Mech­a­nised forces would need to adapt to fight­ing in built-up areas. There­fore the present and the future gen­er­a­tion AFV’s would have to be equipped with urban fight­ing and sur­vival kits. Along our north­ern bor­ders there is an inescapable need of deploy­ing a lim­it­ed num­ber of wheeled light tanks. Wheeled tanks can also be employed in Out of Area con­tin­gency oper­a­tions and river­ine ter­rain. He sur­veys glob­al trends to high­light that only four coun­tries in the recent past have pro­duced tanks. (This includes India’s Arjun). The Abrams / Arjun class of tanks have proved their effec­tive­ness both in Iraq and Afghanistan. An invalu­able and time­ly analysis. 

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