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'A conspiracy to sabotage MBT in play'

The Defence Ministry says a conspiracy could be in play to “sabotage” the main battle tank (MBT) Arjun project.

delhi Updated: Apr 24, 2008 20:27 IST

The Defence Ministry on Thursday said a conspiracy could be in play to “sabotage” the main battle tank (MBT) Arjun project, even as Indian Army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor visited the production unit to inspect the tanks after they failed the just-concluded winter trials.

“The possibility of sabotage needs to be examined,” Minister of State for Defence (Production) Rao Inderjit Singh told reporters in New Delhi.

“The engines fitted in the tanks were German and were performing well for the past 15 years. I wonder what has happened to them overnight,” Singh said, talking about the reported failures of the tank.

Gen. Kapoor, meanwhile, visited the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) in Tamil Nadu for a first-hand look at the tank on the shop-floor.

"Gen. Kapoor along with Defence Secretary (Production) Pradeep Kumar went to the HVF in Avadi (Tamil Nadu) to inspect the tanks," said an army source.

The army had told a key parliamentary panel earlier this month that the Arjun tank, which has been in development for nearly 36 years, failed to deliver at the just-concluded winter trials. The army said after the winter trials that a lot of improvements had to be carried out before it was satisfied.

Kapoor and his predecessor JJ Singh have on separate occasions expressed their unhappiness with the tank.

"What we have today is a mid-level technology. What we need is a tank of international quality," Kapoor said in November.

JJ Singh had spoken in much the same vein during a major Indian Army exercise in the deserts of Rajasthan in April-May 2007.

However, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has defended the Arjun tank.

"Arjun is a proven tank. The defects are pertaining to quality control and production of the tank which can always be fine tuned," a senior DRDO official said.

Fourteen Arjun tanks were handed over to the Indian Army for user trials last year but were returned to the manufacturer - the Combat Vehicles Development Establishment - with a list of defects.

These included a deficient fire control system, inaccuracy of its guns, low speeds in tactical areas - principally the desert - and the tank's inability to operate in temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius.

The army had laid down its qualitative requirement (QR) for the Arjun in 1972. In 1982, it was announced that the 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 first 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.

Of these, 186 were assembled from kits at the HVF at Avadi. An agreement was also signed for the licensed production of another 1,000 T-90s.

With the development of the Arjun delayed further, India last year signed a fresh contract with Russia to buy another 330 T-90s.

First Published: Apr 24, 2008 19:44 IST