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May - 2013 ISSUE

Force Magazine
Enter the Arjun Mk3 - November 2011
There is a need to move from regressive to progressive mode
 
By Prasun K. Sengupta

Why are the Indian Army’s Directorate of Combat Vehicles and Directorate of Mechanised Forces procrastinating over the issuance of the General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) for the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT), more than eight months after they were scheduled to hand them over to the ministry of defence’s (MoD) Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)? Why did the Army HQ’s two above-mentioned Directorates only issue a vague Preliminary Specifications Qualitative Requirements (PSQR) document in mid-2010? Why did the DRDO’s Avadi-based Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE) float a ‘domestic and global expression of interest’ (EoI) document on 31 October 2007 for the co-development of a 1,500hp compact high specific power output diesel engine long before it had even received the Army’s PSQR? Why has the CVRDE not yet issued EoIs for the co-development of other sub-systems for the FMBT, including an automatic transmission system and its MIL-STD-1553B databus-based vectronics suite? What does the DRDO mean when it claims that work on developing the FMBT will begin by 2013 and all related R&D activity will reach fruition by 2020? And why has the Army HQ suddenly lost all interest in the FMBT programme after all the hype generated in early 2007 about this landmark ‘greenfield’ programme — involving for the very first time, as equal risk-sharing R&D partners, the CVRDE and India’s private-sector military-industrial entities? Does the Army HQ have a detailed joint capability-cum-force-planning vision for its warfighting formations?

Let’s answer the last question first. The three armed services HQ that publicly swear by ‘jointness’, all have different threat scenario perceptions. As for the Indian Army, the principal military threat to India emanates from the disputed land borders with both China and Pakistan and now from the increased blurring of the militarily held lines, i.e. the Line of Actual Control with China and the Line of Control with Pakistan. Furthermore, till today, neither the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) nor the HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) to the COSC have ever written a combined threat perceptions document — concerning either China or Pakistan — for consideration by either by the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS), nor the MoD nor the office of the National Security Advisor. And why should they? After all, they were never asked to do so by anyone in the executive branch of the government of India. It was only after the army’s constant badgering on the ever-increasing air-land threat from the People’s Liberation Army that defence minister A.K. Antony issued the MoD’s five-yearly operational directive in February 2010, in which the MoD directed the country’s three armed services to be prepared for waging a two-front war. Consequently, the CCNS authorised the Indian Army to raise four new Infantry Divisions and a new Artillery Division during the 11th (2008-2012) and 12th (2013-2017) Defence Plans.

Post-Operation Parakram (the 10-month eyeball-to-eyeball standoff with Pakistan starting December 2011), very little has been done in terms of combining their respective weights to push through urgently required structural reforms, especially when it involves sacrificing their own turfs. While the three armed services HQs have worked harmoniously for the Sixth Pay Commission’s redresses, they have till date been unable to squarely address the operational imperatives so crucial to the evolution of joint air-sea-land warfighting doctrines. A case in point is the Army Aviation Corps’ longstanding request for possessing fleets of heavy attack helicopters, light attack helicopters and armed aeroscout helicopters. The MoD had as far back as 1986 drawn up a time-bound plan (thanks to the efforts of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his then minister of state for defence Arun Singh) for not only creating the AAC (it eventually came into being on 2 November 1987, equipped with some 130 SA.315 Lama/Cheetah and SA.316B Alouette III/Chetak helicopters for battlefield observation and light utility), but mandating the change of ownership of the Mi-25 and Mi-35P attack helicopters from the IAF to the AAC. However, for undisclosed reasons, this detailed plan has, till this day, not been put into effect, and the IAF continues to claim that its existing inventory of attack helicopters are an integral part of the army’s ORBAT, while the army retorts by saying that the need of the hour is the full-scale integration of such assets with the army’s formation-level command-and-control hierarchy.

After Operation Parakram, Indian Army HQ, while in the process of conceptualising its future warfighting doctrines, plus the strategies and tactics required for waging ‘hyperwar’ or multi-dimensional parallel warfare, had projected a requirement for 120 twin-engined light medium-lift helicopters configured for armed air-assault, 114 light attack helicopters and 197 armed aeroscouts, or light observation helicopters (LOH), all of which, if acquired, would have enabled the army to radically restructure its existing armoured corps assets (now comprising 61 Armoured Regiments deployed with the Mathura-based I Corps, Ambala-based II Corps, Bhopal-based XXI Corps and the eight independent Armoured Brigades attached to the Corps-level ‘Pivot’ formations). And at the same time, it would have given the army’s combined arms war-waging capabilities a dramatic boost, especially when it came to shaping the battlespace prior to commencement of the crucial break-out of its Armoured Battle Groups (attached to the Pivot Corps formations) into enemy territory for initiating the contact battle. This, consequently, would have not only enabled the army to downsize its fleet of MBTs from 3,529 units to 2,400 (by placing a premium on quality over quantity), but would have also made it much easier for the armoured corps to cater for a wider range of threats than just the Pakistan Army. Instead, the reality today is that the IAF continues to zealously guard its turf, refusing to give in to logical reasoning, while the MoD refuses to adjudicate and remains comatose.

The senseless turf war between the army and IAF HQs has had two avoidable and highly regressive consequences. Firstly, it has severely degraded the army’s efforts to conceptualise the optimum pro-active warfighting strategy that is designed to both reduce the mobilisation time of its offensive formations and their break-out into Pakistan (within a 72-hour period) in a series of shallow thrusts going no deeper than 30km into enemy territory (this being necessary in order to ameliorate the Indian Army’s disadvantage of longer external lines of communications as compared with the Pakistan Army’s advantage of deploying and switching its warfighting formations along interior lines of communications). Given the fact that the next round of all-out war between the two countries will be short, swift and intense, the Indian Army believes that instead of making multiple Corps-level thrusts deep into enemy territory, the objective should be to force the Pakistan Army to commit its operational reserves into battle at the very early stages of the war, following which the Indian Army would employ superior operational art backed up by network-centric war-waging technologies to envelop and overwhelm the hostile forces by waging effects-based ‘parallel’ or ‘hyper’ war, thereby destroying the enemy’s war-waging assets in detail.

Secondly, due to the absence of any kind of firm directives emanating from the MoD regarding either the higher directions for waging war or the beefing up of the AAC, Army HQ has not yet succeeded in articulating its pro-active strategy vis-à-vis its Pakistani counterpart. Several questions remain unanswered till today. For instance, what will be the usefulness of the three armour-heavy offensive Strike Corps and the Armoured Battle Groups, depending on the theatre of war. Should the three existing Strike Corps be placed under a new Strategic Command (as was done for the very first time between March and June 2002 at the height of Operation Parakram without any prior wargaming having being conducted on such redeployments)? What will be the quantum of close air support and battlespace air interdiction provided by the IAF (to compensate for the army’s inferiority in field artillery) within the first 72 hours of hostilities breaking out, considering that early in the war the IAF’s air campaigns will be monopolised by air superiority and counter-base sorties? Apart from all these, the internal bureaucratic wrangles within Army HQ have ensured that crucial force modernisation programmes that are designed to make the pro-active warfighting strategy a reality — such as those involving new-generation force multipliers like towed/motorised/tracked 155mm/52-cal field artillery assets, battlespace management system (BMS), F-INSAS and the tactical communications system (TCS) — are all still years away from deployment.

Therefore, in light of all of the above, how exactly can the Indian Army expected to articulate the force restructuring-cum-modernisation plans for its armoured corps? The options, frankly speaking, are few. On one hand, the army has to take cognizance of the Pakistan Army’s plans to introduce into service in the near future the Ukraine-supplied Oplot-M MBT, up to 800 new-build up-armoured Al Khalid MBTs, and possibly the Eurocopter Tiger HAF heavy attack helicopters. On the other hand, it has to contend with the steady build-up of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s armoured vehicle and attack helicopter assets — comprising Type 96G MBTs and wheeled 8x8 tank destroyers, plus the ZW-10 heavy attack helicopters — in China’s Chengdu and Lanzhou military regions along the Sino-India border. And thirdly, it requires urgent new-build replacements for the existing 1,781 T-55 and T-72M/M1 MBTs (out of the 2,418 T-72s that were bought since 1981). While the short-term measures have included the upgrading of 692 T-72s to ‘Combat-Improved Ajeya’ standards and an on-going competition between Russia’s Rosoboronexport State Corp, ELBIT Systems of Israel, and the Raytheon/Larsen & Toubro combine to upgrade another 700-odd T-72s (with work scheduled for completion by 2018), proceeding concurrently is the induction of T-90S MBTs and their selective upgradation. It may be recalled that in February 2001, India bought its first batch of 310 T-90S MBTs worth USD 795 million, of which 120 were delivered off-the-shelf, 90 in semi-knocked down kits (for licenced-assembly by the MoD-owned Heavy Vehicles Factory, or HVF, in Avadi), and 100 in completely-knocked down kits (all these MBTs have since been retrofitted with Saab’s IDAS radar/laser warning system and LEDS-150 active protection system, or APS). This was followed by a follow-on contract, worth USD 800 million, being inked on 26 October 2006, for another 330 T-90M MBTs that were to be built with locally-sourced raw materials. The third contract, worth USD 1.23 billion, was inked in December 2007 for 347 upgraded T-90Ms, the bulk of which are now being licence-assembled by HVF. A competition is now underway between Israel Military Industries (IMI) and Saab to retrofit APS to the remaining 677 T-90S MBTs, with the Iron First system competing with the LEDS-150. Lastly, we have the 124 Arjun Mk1 MBTs now in delivery, with another 124 Mk2 variants to follow.

This then brings us to the most important question: what exactly will be the FMBT? Will it be brand-new design from scratch, or will be a further evolution of the Arjun Mk2? All evidence seems to suggest that it is the latter. For one, all the technological enhancements spelt out in the PSQRs are already available, with some of them (like APS, a 1,500hp diesel engine, and an integrated passive defensive aids suite) already incorporated in the Arjun Mk2. Secondly, the army, choosing to be realistic this time, knows only too well that designing and developing a FMBT and its powerpack from scratch between 2013 and 2020 at a cost of Rs15 billion is an assured impossibility. However, what is achievable within this timeframe, is an Arjun Mk3 whose evolutionary path is very similar to what IMI has to date achieved with the Merkava family of MBTs. Consequently, the Indian Army, which has projected a need for about 1,200 FMBTs, has chosen to take the less risky route and is soon expected to specify in its GSQR the following design/performance parameters for the born-again FMBT, which will eventually be known as the Arjun Mk3:

• The re-engineered Arjun MBT should weigh no more than 70 tonnes and have a three-man crew complement.
• Its powerpack should include either a 1,500hp diesel engine equipped with an overdrive mode for facilitating acceleration from zero to full power in 2.8 seconds, or a compact multi-fuel gas turbine with FADEC. The transmission must be of the automatic continuous variable-type.
• It should incorporate hydropneumatic active suspension.
• The integral armour package should include modular ceramic composite armour (thereby doing away with integrated ERA and ERA tiles in the MBT’s frontal glacis, sides and turret).
• It should incorporate a turret-mounted autoloader.
• Its digitised vectronics suite — comprising the hunter-killer fire-control system, radar/laser warning system, IFF transponder, APS, BMS, software-defined radio communications suite, health and usage monitoring system incorporating on-board diagnostics and maintenance log-book modes, multi-spectral decoy/camouflage generation system, and the turret traverse/stabilisation system — should be integrated with a MIL-STD-1553B digital databus.
• As in the Arjun Mk2, the gunner’s sight must incorporate a thermal imager operating in the 8-12 micron bandwidth, while the commander’s independent panoramic sight should house a thermal imager operating in the 3-5 micron bandwidth.
• The principal armament of the FMBT should be a 55-calibre version of the existing 44-calibre 120mm rifled bore cannon firing HEAT, HESH and AP-FSDS rounds, and which should also be able to fire laser-guided or imaging infra-red guided anti-tank/anti-helicopter projectiles.
• The overall silhouette of the Arjun Mk3 should incorporate new-generation signature management technologies and features similar to what France’s nexter Systems has developed for the upgraded Leclerc MBT.

For the CVRDE, therefore, the principal developmental challenges to be met between now and 2020 lie in the areas of weight-budgeted hull and turret, integrated vectronics suite, compact powerpack, signature management, and the higher-calibre cannon. Of these, the powerpack issue remains the most daunting. For if the existing solution for the Arjun Mk2 — a fully Made-in-India Cummins 1,500hp diesel engine coupled to an ESM-500 automatic transmission — is retained for the Arjun Mk3, then accomplishing any kind of weight savings will be almost impossible, especially since the metallurgical expertise required for weight savings of the type achieved by Japan’s Type 10 MBT is non-existent in India. On the other hand, if the standing offer by the joint industrial team of GE and Honeywell to supply the new-generation LV-100 gas turbine coupled to the X-1100-3B transmission from Detroit Diesel Allison is accepted and specified by Army HQ, then the Arjun Mk3 has very good chances of not breaching the 70-tonne limit (incidentally, the latest variants of the US M-1A2 Abrams, German Leopard 2A6 and Chinese ZTZ-99A2 MBTs all have all-up weights approaching 68 tonnes). A gas turbine-based powerplant will offer high power-to-weight ratio, high torque, multi-fuel capability, ease of maintenance, compact packaging, vibration-free operation, ease of starting, smokeless exhaust, and 33 per cent reduction in fuel consumption.

 
 


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