India has signed a fresh contract with Russia to buy 330 T-90S main battle tanks (MBTs) in complete sets of components for local assembly, a leading British defence journal has reported.
Citing military-diplomatic sources, the authoritative Jane's Defence Weekly declared that the order for the additional T-90S kits would in no way impinge on the agreed scope of the license programme to construct the MBTs at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) at Avadi, near Chennai.
India bought 310 T-90S in 2001 for around $800 million - 124 in completed form and the remaining 186 to be assembled at Avadi in response to Pakistan inducting the Ukrainian-built T 80 UD MBT into service 1997 onwards.
The Indian Army was the first export customer for the T-90S, which had been in the Russian army service since the mid-1990s.
Deliveries of the initial 124 T-90S tanks began in December 2002 and were completed within 12-14 months while another 180 MBTs have since been assembled at Avadi and the first part of the order is nearing completion. The T-90S tanks have been inducted into six armoured regiments in northern and central India.
The associated licence agreement provides for the assembly of up to 1,000 T-90S tanks in India with production scheduled to begin sometime in 2007. This was supposedly also to lead to a gradual increase in the share of components made locally in an effort at enhancing the T-90S indigenisation.
But, Jane's reports that the order for the 330 sets of T-90S components is driven by the fact that the Indian Army desperately needs modern MBTs due to chronic delays in the production schedule of the domestic Arjun MBT.
In addition, official sources said the upgrade of the army's Soviet and locally built T 72 MBTs, that form the backbone of the armoured regiments, was delayed by several years due to bureaucratic vacillation.
Delivery of T-90S kits from Russia, Jane's adds, would "speed up" the fielding of new MBTs as assembly using Indian-made components is more time consuming.
But army officers complained that the existing T-90S tanks faced "recurring" technical problems which were adversely impinging on the force's operational preparedness.