The production of the indigenously built main battle tank (MBT) Arjun will continue, with an additional 77 tanks to be supplied to the Indian Army by March 2010, an official said on Monday amid concerns about the project.
There was apprehension among Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists that the production would have to halt as the army had put its foot down and declined to buy more than 124 tanks as contracted earlier.
"Currently, the Indian Army has been supplied with one regiment of 45 tanks. Another 77 tanks will be supplied by March 2010. Also, the apprehension of the scientists has been allayed and the production of the tank will continue," a senior defence official told IANS.
The DRDO needs to manufacture and deliver at least 500 tanks to make the project feasible. The official's comment is seen as a sign that the army might go for more Arjun tanks in future.
Currently the tanks supplied to the army are undergoing tests before being operationalised.
"After this comparative trials will be conducted with the Russian-made T-90 tanks in October-November. Arjun will replace the T-55 and T-72 tanks," the official said.
The comparative trials, earlier scheduled in May-June 2009, could deliver the final verdict on Arjun that has been 36 years in the making and has cost Rs.3.5 billion ($71.7 million).
The army had insisted on the delivery of a full regiment (45 tanks) of Arjun before the comparative trials can be conducted. This demand was met when the DRDO delivered 16 more tanks to the army.
The army has made it clear that it will buy no more than the 124 Arjuns it has contracted because it is unhappy with the tank on various counts.
This apart, the army says the Arjun can at best remain in service for five to 10 years while it is looking 20 years ahead and needs a futuristic MBT.
The Indian Army laid down its qualitative requirement for the Arjun in 1972. In 1982, it was announced that a prototype was ready for field trials. However, the tank was publicly unveiled for the first time only in 1995.
Arjun was originally meant to be a 40-tonne tank with a 105 mm gun. It has now grown to a 50-tonne tank with a 120-mm gun. The tank was meant to supplement and eventually replace the Soviet-era T-72 MBT that was inducted in the early 1980s.
However, delays in the Arjun project and Pakistan's decision to purchase the T-80 from Ukraine prompted India to order 310 T-90s, an upgraded version of the T-72, in 2001.