The Indian Army has crashed out of a 19-nation military competition after its Russian-origin T-90S main-battle tanks broke down due to mechanical snags in the grueling sport, even as the armoured fighting vehicles from Russia, China, Belarus and Kazakhstan raced ahead to enter the finals.
The Army swears by the T-90S “Bhishma” tanks, which are being licensed-produced in India after the first 657 of them were imported for Rs 8,525 crore from Russia from 2001 onwards, though the DRDO accuses the force for cold-shouldering the indigenous Arjun tanks.
Sources said both the main and reserve T-90S tanks, shipped by India for the Tank Biathlon in the International Army Games at the Alabino ranges in Russia, developed “engine problems” after performing “exceedingly well” in the initial rounds of the competition.
“The fan belt snapped in the first tank. The reserve tank was then deployed for the race but its entire engine oil leaked just two kilometres before the end…it could not complete the race. It was sheer bad luck that led to the Indian team being disqualified,” said an officer.
China, incidentally, has fielded its indigenous Type-96B tank in the competition, which includes firing on the tanks on the move by machine guns and anti-tank projectiles at a 2-km range while they negotiate rugged obstacles. Russia and Kazakhstan have deployed T-72B3 tanks, while Belarus has a modernized T-72 tank. The four are now competing for the top honours.
The T-90S tanks are the fulcrum of the Indian Army’s “shock and awe” armoured battle plans. The force has 63 armoured regiments with around 800 T-90S, 124 Arjun and 2,400 older T-72 tanks as of now.After the first 657 T-90S tanks were imported, the Avadi heavy vehicles Factory under the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is progressively “producing” 1,000 more tanks with Russian kits. In November last year, the defence ministry had approved the procurement of 464 T-90S tanks from the OFB for Rs 13,448 crore to add to the 536 tanks ordered earlier.
The DRDO remains upset+ that the Army has not yet ordered upgraded Arjun Mark-II tanks after inducting the first lot of 124 Mark-I variants, stressing the indigenous tanks did better than the T-90S tanks in comparative trials in 2010.
The Army, however, contends that the 62-tonne Arjun, with its excessive weight and width, has poor operational mobility and flexibility. It has also launched a hunt for a “future ready combat vehicle (FRCV)” to meet its requirements after 2027.