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The Indian Army is poised for a major shakeup in its armoured fleet as it grapples with the impending retirement and storage of over 50% of its T-72 tanks within the next 7-8 years. These Soviet-era workhorses, serving as the mainstay of the Indian Army since 1982, are approaching their end of life, while their replacement program, the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT), remains stalled after a decade of delays.

The Army currently operates around 2,400 T-72 tanks, most of which have exceeded their 30-year service life. While extensive overhauls provided an extra 10-15 years, these tanks lack the modern capabilities needed for contemporary warfare. The situation is further complicated by the Russia-Ukraine war, hindering access to critical spares for maintenance and repairs.

To bridge the gap, the Army plans to upgrade over 1,200 T-72s with new engines, fire control systems, and other advancements. However, this means more than 1000 T-72 will remain unupgraded and not combat-capable. The last 98 T-72s entered service in 1998-99, highlighting that even the youngest T-72 Tanks are inching closer to the OEM-prescribed 30 shelf life mark.

The FMBT program envisioned to replace the T-72s with a domestically developed tank, has been plagued by delays and indecision. This leaves the Army in a precarious position, with a rapidly ageing fleet and no clear path forward. While DRDO plans to continue the development of Arjun Mk1A, Mk2 and even Mk3 seems to be justified that the T-72 fleet needs to play back up of back up in this modern warfare where its vulnerabilities will be explored against Modern ATGMS.

The Indian Army’s T-72 dilemma presents a complex challenge. A multi-pronged approach, combining modernization efforts with a clear roadmap for the FMBT program or strategic foreign partnerships, is crucial to ensure the Army maintains a modern and effective Armoured force. The future of India’s Armoured might hang in the balance, and the decisions made in the coming years will have lasting consequences.

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